Site of long-awaited Waikōloa emergency access route blessed

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For Waikōloa Village residents the trauma of trying to flee their homes during the Mana Road fire in 2021 still replays in their memories.

State and county leaders gathered May 21, 2024, to celebrate the blessing and groundbreaking of the Waikōloa emergency access route. Photo by: Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now

Lani Larrua, resident of the village for 25 years, recalls the air being smokey as people started to leave down the main thoroughfare, Waikōloa Road, to get to Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway. An emergency exit was made available after authorities opened a normally locked gate that dead-ends Hulu Street.

However, the vast majority of vehicles left the area via the main road to and from the village.

“It took at least an hour and a half to get out,” Larrua said.

With a groundbreaking and blessing of the Waikōloa Emergency Egress Route on Tuesday, Larrua was excited although she doesn’t think it quite quells the fears of residents at this point.

“I’m thankful they [elected officials] have heard the voice of the Waikōloa people, but I’m not holding my breath for it to get started,” she said, adding when she sees work happening to pave the road, she will get excited.

The site of the Waikōloa emergency access route was blessed May 21, 2024. Photo by: Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

Located off Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway between Mauna Lani Resort and Puakō, the emergency route, currently rolling hills, grass and trees, will be three miles long and connect to Kamakoa Nui Road in Waikōloa Village. It is funded and constructed by private landowners.

One of the landowners, Charles Somers, said the project will happen in two phases. The first is to conduct a pathfinder project where engineers will walk the proposed route to ensure there are no unexploded ordnances, agriculture or cultural issues.

If nothing is found, Somers said the paving of the emergency route could be completed by the end of the year.

The road will ultimately be an access point to a community of up to 2,000 homes Somers plans to build in the area.

The state Department of Transportation has committed to installing an intersection on the highway for safety of the drivers.


During Tuesday’s event, Mayor Mitch Roth said since he was elected in 2020, his administration has looked at ways to make Hawai‘i Island sustainable — from affordable housing to ensuring there is safety and resilience in the communities.

“We believe that this is going to eventually make our community a lot safer,” Roth said of the new road.

Director of Transportation Ed Sniffen addressed the group noting the beauty of the day with sun shining and breezes passing through, however, he said the Maui fires on Aug. 8, 2023, which decimated Lāhainā leaving more than 100 people dead, changed his perspective.

I don’t see beautiful sunny days anymore,” Sniffen said. “I just see the potential for wildfires and burns, wind that can carry that smoke and fire to other areas.”

Since the Mana Road fire, the state cut 30 miles of firebreak on the Big Island, seven miles was in Waikōloa.


“But that’s just an interim solution because 25% of our communities are cut off, single access in and out, we’re limited in resources,” Sniffen said.

This new road will help change that.

Gov. Josh Green was also at the groundbreaking excited to see the project move forward.

Gov. Josh Green speaks at groundbreaking and blessing for the Waikōloa emergency access route on May 21, 2024. Photo by: Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now

“We know that these things happen, so we can’t just sit back and wait until another fire occurs,” Green said. “Things have gotten a little more urgent and serious because the storms are a little more intense. Our droughts are a little bit more disturbing and distressing.”

With the urgency to be better informed about fire, Green said remote weather stations, costing $25,000 a piece, will be placed strategically throughout the state to collect more weather data during the red flag warnings so communication is quicker.

“But if you don’t have a road, all the warnings in the world don’t do anything for you,” Green said.

Other dignitaries present at the event were Rep. David Tarnas, Sen. Tim Richards and Hawai‘i County Councilwoman Cindy Evans who have all advocated for the road for the past several years.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at
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