Some residents along Purdue Mountain Road in Benner Township are fed up.
Part of the winding mountain road has been closed for more than a year and a half, forcing residents who live on the end of the road toward Unionville to backtrack for an 8-mile detour that more than doubles their travel time to Bellefonte borough. It's not just an inconvenience, some say, it's also a safety issue.
"It’s awful," resident Shirley Stem said. "We’re stranded up here, practically."
Heavy rainfall took out a few hundred yards of the road in October 2016 when Centre County experienced flash-flooding so severe that President Barack Obama declared it a federal disaster.
The timeline for when the road is expected to reopen has been pushed back several times, and the township does not have a completion date set.
Crews were hoping to have the road reopened last August, but delays with materials and specialized equipment prolonged the process. Dennis O'Leary, public works superintendent, said in October that they were aiming to finish the construction before winter, but part of the road collapsed again.
Roadwork has since stopped and will resume when the township gets approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which O'Leary said should be "coming any day now."
Due to the disaster declaration, the about $1 million project has been funded 75 percent by FEMA and 25 percent through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, as previously reported.
Before the road closed, resident Tim Miller said it took him less than 10 minutes to drive to Bellefonte. Now, it takes about 25 minutes.
Miller has attended several Benner Township Board of Supervisors meetings, along with about a dozen other frustrated residents, to voice his concerns.
He said the township is taking the matter seriously and does care about their worries, though he does wish the project updates were more regular.
Local residents are also worried about emergency response time.
"If our house catches on fire, we might as well let it burn because they’re not going to get here in time," Stem said.
Two weeks ago, Alpha and Bellefonte fire crews responded to a garage fire at 1015 Purdue Mountain Road. By the time they arrived on the scene, the fire was fully involved with flames. A couple Alpha tankers and one from Milesburg worked to shuttle water from Unionville to the scene of the fire, as previously reported.
Bellefonte EMS Chief and Executive Director Scott Rhoat said the detour does add about 10 minutes to their response time, but they haven't been called out to the area too often since the road has been closed.
He said the closure "certainly has the potential of having significant impact." Now that there are fewer options to get to the far end of Purdue Mountain Road, if something like downed wires or trees are blocking Buffalo Run Road or Unionville Pike, access is even trickier.
The ambulance would have to drive to Milesburg and come from the north side of the mountain, adding about 25 minutes to the response time, he said.
The road closure has also affected Bellefonte Area School District bus routes. Ken Bean, director of fiscal affairs, said the district had to add another bus route specifically for kids who live on the other side, and pickup times had to be shifted.
The additional bus route cost $30,000, Bean said, which was reimbursed through FEMA.
Stem said kids used to get picked up by the bus at 8 a.m., but now they are getting on at 7 a.m.
"We’ve had to alter our runs up there and how we do things," Bean said. "We were expecting the road to be finished by the time school started, then we were hoping it would be finished by Christmas and of course it’s not yet."