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By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – As coastal towns across the U.S. struggle to find solutions to sea level rise (SLR), one state in particular is extremely concerned about its vulnerability – Hawaii. With most of the state’s 1.4 million residents living on or close to the coast, officials are asking if Hawaii’s vulnerable coastal highways are worth saving.

Highway along Oahu island coastline, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, News
Highway along Oahu island’s coastline, photo by Ken Lund/Flickr Creative Commons License.

“I don’t want to scare people, but I want to put out there that we need to look long term,” Ed Sniffen, the state’s deputy director for highways, said in a TV interview last week.

According to Sniffen, in some vulnerable coastal areas, such as Kaaawa, abandoning the two-lane Kamehameha Highway altogether might make the most sense later this century if the local community is eventually displaced by the invading ocean.

According to NGO news entity civilbeat.org, scientists examining climate change expect more than $20 billion in ruined buildings and roads around Hawaii as sea levels rise by an estimated 3 feet by the end of this century. The threatened stretches represent about fifteen percent of all state highways.

Recently the University of Hawaii’s (UH) Manoa campus College of Engineering prepared for the state’s Department of Transportation a report which shows the highways which most urgently need protection against erosion and sea level rise.

The report found Kamehameha Highway in Hauula, on the island of Oahu to be the most vulnerable highway in the state for the effects of SLR.

It is not just highways in Oahu island that are threatened by rising seas. The report also lists the island of Maui’s Honoapiilani Highway near Olowalu that connects communities such as Lahaina and Kaanapali to the rest of the island as being threatened with disappearance if sea level rises significantly.

What the report however, does not recommend eliminating these highways in danger of being swallowed up by the ocean, but rather protecting the coastal areas surrounding them.

Although the UH report does not estimate the cost of protecting these vulnerable highways, Sniffen previously said the protection of the state’s coastal highways would be approximately $15 billion.

The recommendations by the University of Hawaii are expected to be discussed by state officials in upcoming meetings.

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