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All lanes open on I-94 in Maplewood as charred semi removed

All westbound lanes of Interstate 94 at Century Avenue reopened around 11:30 a.m. Monday, five hours after a semitrailer truck caught fire and forced a brief closure of the freeway.

The semi burst into flames around 6:25 a.m. and blocked all four westbound lanes for about 25 minutes during Monday's morning rush. The State Patrol and the Minnesota Department of Transportation were able to get one lane open by 7 a.m. and a second about 7:30 a.m.

Flames leapt from the truck which came to rest on the right shoulder of the westbound lanes after the truck's brakes caught fire and "got out of control," a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation said.

The incident brought traffic to a standstill as far back as County Road 19 in Woodbury, about four miles, until thing began to loosen up around 8:30 a.m.

 The truck sustained severe damage, but the driver was unhurt and was able to call 911, MnDOT said.

 

Metro Transit working to fix 1,200 heat lamps vandalized at bus and light-rail shelters

The heat is on in one shelter at the Government Center light-rail station in downtown Minneapolis, but others at the popular stop are not working.

It's the same story at the Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue Station, where the overhead heat lamps that provide protection against the elements are on the fritz, leaving riders left to stand in the cold and wind.

Turns out that's a widespread problem. More than 1,000 heat lamps at light-rail stations and bus shelters across the system are not working, Metro Transit said.

The reason: Vandalism, said spokesman Howie Padilla.

Metro Transit became aware of the problem during the cold snap earlier this month after riders complained. And as the temperatures continue their slide into winter, riders are asking for the heaters to be fixed so they can stay warm while waiting for their ride.

Heat lamps inside shelters are regulated to work when the temperature falls to 40 degrees or colder. Riders can push a button to make them come on. But hundreds of the heat-producing units like this one at the Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue platform have been inoperable.

"A large majority of them were vandalized," Padilla said.

Metro Transit Manager of Facilities Mike Maddio estimates replacing the vandalized heaters has cost the agency tens of thousands of dollars over the past few years.

Engineering teams have been working across the system to get them up and running, Padilla said.

But he offered no timeline as to when the damaged heaters will be fixed.

The heaters are made from one or more 12-inch glass tubes, and are targets for vandals, especially in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, Maddio said. Since early October, he said a staff of four electricians have replaced more than 400 heat lamps and are scheduled to replace an additional 800 in the coming weeks.

"It's daunting," Maddio said. "We fix one heater at 7 a.m. and by 2 p.m. it's destroyed again."

Catching vandals in the act isn't always possible, but, Transit Police Lt. Troy Schmitz said police will pursue criminal charges if they're are able to obtain video of the vandalism and identify suspects.