The Adventure of Paving Halawa Valley Road

By Catherine Cluett

Driving the road to Halawa Valley is an adventure; paving it is a logistical nightmare. But the crew of Maui Paving, contracted by the State to complete the task, is ready to take on the challenge. From the risks of operating heavy equipment around hairpin turns and steep grades, to accommodating traffic through narrow passages, the project can be full of unknowns for the crew.

One of the biggest challenges of the Halawa job, explains project foreman Dane Patao, is calculating the timing and quantities of asphalt to be trucked on site before each section between turn-arounds can be paved. Once the 15-ton roller is in action, work cannot be halted mid-way if they are paving a critical area, such as a steep curve. The average section will need about three truckloads of asphalt to complete.

The mixture is made on Molokai with crushed rock from the island and oil from Oahu and Maui. Asphalt mix will be trucked to Morris Point, then switched into smaller equipment for transportation to the worksite. At the plant, the mixture is heated to 370 degrees Fahrenheit, and must be laid on the road at a temperature of 250 to 270 degrees.

The paving process will begin in about a week. In the mean time, the eight-man crew is busy cleaning the existing road. This involves finding the edge-line of the road, often covered by as much as two feet of debris on either side. This means the road, currently averaging 16 feet wide, could be broadened to up to 20 feet, explains Dan Curnan, an inspector for the project contracted by the State. Every foot makes a difference when two cars come face to face on the narrow pass.

Another challenge of the Halawa job, says Patao, is working with traffic.

“The public comes first. Our job is to make everybody happy,” he laughs. Once paving begins, a flagger will be stationed at each end of the section. Traffic will have to wait about 30 minutes until the section is complete before they can pass. But if there is an emergency, or if a resident is running late for something important, Patao chuckles, the driver should tell the flagger, and arrangements can be made for expedited passage.

The crew normally works from about 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. but Patao says their hours are flexible if a different schedule is better for valley residents. Pateo thinks about half the traffic on the road is from tourists.

The paving project is part of a plan laid out by the State to repair Kamehameha V Highway. The Maui Paving crew has already completed a section extending west of the wharf. The Halawa section, 5.5 miles long starting at the bottom of the valley, was last paved over a dozen years ago. It will take the Maui Paving crew approximately two months to complete.

The State plan for the project calls for no road widening or tree removal. Instead of removing tree roots that have grown under the road causing breaks in the pavement, the Maui Paving crew has instructions to shave off the pavement over the roots and pave over the top again without incurring any root damage.

Curnan acts as a state liaison for the project and maintains documentation on the work. He explains the dangers of the equipment of the Halawa road.

“The steel track of the equipment could slide down the smooth pavement and steep incline of the road,” he says. If that happens, the driver may have to run the machine into the hillside to stop it. Another danger in this environment is losing hydraulic pressure. In both scenarios, a pull-off area close by might be the only safety net. Curnan notes that the company will probably send their most experienced driver for the job. Find a company that offers hydraulic cylinder repair that can be called in case the hydraulics get damaged.

Despite these dangers, the crew, three of whom are from Molokai, remains calm and confident. “This is a relaxed project because we’re not in the public eye as much,” says Imua Mawae, from Ho`olehua. “There’s no pressure,” he laughs.

For some, that might seem ironic. But the Maui Paving crew says they do a similarly challenging project about once a year. Let the adventures begin!


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