Until speaking with local PennDOT officials Monday, Roscoe Fire Chief Sean Whiten did not know emergency vehicles were not permitted on Elco Hill.
Whiten said that in retrospect, it was worth the risk of driving fire trucks on the closed section of roadway if it meant saving lives.
“We put our lives at risk anyway,” Whiten said.
Elco Hill has been closed since the second of two landslides along that section of Route 88 occurred about a month ago.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokeswoman Valerie Petersen said the road has been off limits to all traffic – including emergency vehicles – since the latest landslide. She acknowledged that some motorists are taking chances and ignoring road blocks.
Penn Development Services began work Monday on a $3,296,945 project in which it will remove tons of trees and other debris that fell on the roadway during the most recent slides, adjust slope of the hill and increase the width of the rock fall zone.
A previous contract was awarded for erection of new fence along Elco Hill.
Weather permitting, Elco Hill will open to traffic the week of Aug. 19. The project is scheduled for completion in October, Petersen said.
This isn’t the first time that landslides have been a concern along Elco Hill. The recent slides occurred just north, or lower on the hill, from the location of a slide that shut down Elco Hill last year.
Prior to the recent problems, traffic on Elco Hill had been limited to one lane as crews made improvements necessitated by a prior slide.
The long-term shutdown could cause traffic concerns for residents and school bus routes.
Elco Hill is a main route for school buses traveling to California Area schools and for motorists who want to access the Mon/Fayette Expressway without traveling to Interstate 70.
Transit service also is affected when Elco Hill is shut down.
With the closure, emergency vehicles will also feel the pinch, Whiten acknowledges.
“It is going to increase our response time to the Route 88/Dally Road area,” Whiten said. “We’re going to have to go over Mt. Tabor Road, about 3.2 miles extra.”
The Roscoe Fire Department maintains mutual aid agreements with neighboring fire companies. He expects Roscoe firefighters to call on their peers in California, Charleroi and Fallowfield Township more often while Elco Hill is closed.
Despite the long closure and related detour, Whiten said he understands the importance of the project.
“It is a double-edged sword,” Whiten said. “The hillside needs repaired and I’m sure PennDOT is doing the best they can. On the other hand, there’s going to be an interruption.”