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Temporary garage holds fire engine at St. Paul station blocked by LRT work

MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
A temporary garage along St. Albans to hold the ladder truck.

Light rail construction along University Avenue in St. Paul has blocked access to businesses, slowed traffic to a crawl and even jarred staffers at the state Capitol.

Now it’s cut off the main bays at Fire Station 18, which sits at University Avenue and St. Albans Street. Fire officials say they’ve been planning for this and have made work-arounds to assure that part of the city remains protected.

Capt. Rick Zech of Station 18 said there have been no problems in making timely responses to emergencies in the first few days of the new setup.

All the equipment is still usable, and the 100-year-old station is fully staffed 24/7, but they have to take a different route to respond to calls, detouring around the construction and backed-up traffic that clogs University.

The big rigs and the ambulance used to pull directly out onto University to respond to fire and medical emergencies. Now, they’ve put up a temporary garage along St. Albans to hold the ladder truck. The ambulance has been moved to a side bay on St. Albans.

Both of them face north now, instead of south towards University, and have to rush to emergencies by going north on St. Albans to Sherburne Avenue, then turning right or left on  the residential street filled with families.

The station’s third rig, the engine truck, is parked facing south on St. Albans during the day. Each night, the construction workers temporarily fill in a small part of the the big light rail ditch on University, so the engine truck can be returned to the main bay, inside, at night.

(They don’t want to leave any of the equipment outdoors at night, for fear of vandalism.)

Steve Zaccard, the city fire marshal, said a similar situation occurred last summer, at Fire State 20 at University and Vandalia, when light rail tore up the western stretch of the road.

A temporary garage was built nearby to house the equipment, and the trucks were routed around the construction work and resulting traffic congestion.

That garage was disassembled and stored when construction was completed on that stretch last fall. Now the same garage has been rebuilt  on St. Albans, Zaccard said. 

Response times could be be a little slower with the rearranged configuration, depending on where the call location is, he said.

“Traffic is a problem there, whenever we’re responding. With the construction, it takes longer for cars to get out of our way,” he said.

Capt. Rick Zech
MinnPost photo by Joe KimballCapt. Rick Zech in the temporary garage at Station 18.

“There were times at Station 20 last year when the traffic was stopped on University and the cars just couldn’t get out of the way. There was nowhere to go,” he said.

So far, no such trouble in Frogtown at Station 18, though.

Zaccard said the station could be bottled up for another eight weeks.

He said the light rail construction crews have been very accommodating. They fill in a small portion of the ditch each night so the engine truck can get in and out of the front doors, and they provided the temporary garage.

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