It’s been a year since intense rainfall took out parts of Purdue Mountain Road in Benner Township, and the road is still closed.
“The road actually washed away,” said David Wise, Benner Township Board of Supervisors chairman.
Several sections that washed out have been repaired, but two major areas are still in progress, said Dennis O’Leary, public works superintendent.
Those two main areas that the slides occurred in spanned a few hundred feet, O’Leary said.
The washouts happened last October when Centre County experienced flash-flooding so severe that it was declared a federal disaster by President Barack Obama.
The water runoff was like nothing the township has experienced, Wise said. The pipes just couldn’t handle it.
There’s no definite timeline for when the road will reopen, O’Leary said. Crews are working as quickly and diligently as they can to get it done.
Wise said they were hoping to have the road reopened in August for the start of the school year, but delays with materials and specialized equipment pushed back the date.
He said they’re now trying to finish the project by the end of the construction season — before it gets too cold and the asphalt plants close down for the winter.
The total cost of the project is in excess of $1 million, O’Leary said.
And it’s been a “unique” engineering solution, Wise said.
Crews are drilling holes into sandstone and setting into them steel piling filled with concrete, he said.
The piling system is fairly elaborate — with galvanized pipes to hold up the road, he said. The pilings are “incredibly complex” and “massive.”
Due to the disaster declaration, the project has been funded 75 percent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and 25 percent through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Because of that, the process for bids and construction has been different than what the township is used to, Wise said.
Soil and rock testing, for example, had to be done at the site before a design could be advanced, he said.
Having the road closed has been frustrating to some Benner Township residents and difficult for the Bellefonte Area School District, Wise said.
There’s another entrance to Purdue Mountain Road in Unionville, he said, but it’s an 8-mile detour.
Last school year, the district had to shift to a smaller bus that could turn around in a temporary cul-de-sac constructed on the road in the winter, said Ken Bean, BASD’s director of fiscal affairs.
The district had to shift pickup times so the bus could take the elementary students and then go back for the high school students, he said.
It cost $30,000, Bean said, which was reimbursed through FEMA.
Because they’re hoping the road will be reopened by winter, the district is back to using its regular bus, he said.
This is a “small, crooked” mountain road that has required a lot of work over the years, Wise said. The township is “probably lucky” it’s even going to reopen at all.