News 4 Investigates a dangerous intersection in St. Louis County

Published: Jul. 27, 2022 at 10:58 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV) -- In St. Louis County, the intersection of Chambers Road and Elizabeth Avenue has a reputation for all the wrong reasons. The intersection costs multiple lives this year, most recently 29-year-old Kaylin Santorski.

“I have to drive by this every single day, it’s just a constant reminder of the loss,” said Kaylin’s mom, Heather Santorski, while standing at the intersection. “She has a 20-month-old son Micah who looks just like her. Her son will never get to know her personally, just through us.”

Two months ago on June 7, Kaylin was a passenger in a car that was traveling east on Chambers Road. Ferguson Police said the car did not have the right of way as it turned left onto Elizabeth Avenue. While the car was turning, they were hit by an oncoming vehicle traveling west on Chambers Road.

Ferguson Police believe that caused a secondary crash. In total four cars were involved and four people were injured. Kaylin was the only one who didn’t survive.

She’s one of four people killed around the intersection in six months.

“How many more people have to lose their lives for them to do something?” Heather Santorski questioned.

The road is owned by St. Louis County, which acknowledges the intersection is dangerous. However, the County claims it cannot afford a fix.

Weeks before Kaylin died, the intersection was a focus during a March 15 Ferguson Traffic Commission meeting. Commissioners said they were concerned there would be more deaths at the intersection if something didn’t change.

During the meeting, St. Louis County presented multiple ways to make the road safer.

The plan that is now moving forward involves taking Chambers Road from four lanes to three, using two lanes for travel in each direction, and one lane for turning. The reduced lanes will run on Chambers Road between Florissant Road and Forrestwood Drive.

At the intersection of Chambers Road and Elizabeth Avenue, the light will be replaced with a roundabout. Those changes still haven’t happened.

“People are dying who shouldn’t die and put in that situation and we can do something about it,” said Stephen Robin, who lives just off the intersection.

Robin told News 4 he has seen dozens of wrecks over the years and is often one of the first people on the scene calling 911 and rushing to help.

“The sad side of that is when you help somebody out, but they still die, and you’re still helping them and holding them,” said Robin, who also worked as a hospital chaplain for years.

The county estimates the proposed changes will cost upwards of $1.3 million. What’s been preventing work is the long-running debate over who’s going to pay, St. Louis County or the City of Ferguson.

“It’s the County’s road so it’s the County’s responsibility,” said Ferguson City Manager Eric Osterberg,

Osterberg was hired in the fall of last year, but he says the back and forth over the intersection long proceeds him.

In 2020, the county published a traffic study looking at intersections in Ferguson. According to Osterberg that study downplayed the severity of crashes, and the intersection of Chambers Road and Elizabeth Avenue didn’t make the list of high crash locations in the city.

“We were kind of just told that it wasn’t dangerous to warrant any changes,” Osterberg explained.

Months into Osterberg’s new job in January 2022, two people were killed at the intersection. Osterberg took matters into his own hands and worked with the city road department to put up barriers to try and slow down traffic. Osterberg said the barriers were only up for hours.

“They [the county] showed up and took the barriers down,” Osterberg explained.

Osterberg said that move got the county’s attention and is part of what led to the Traffic Commission meeting in March where the county presented its safety plan. During the meeting, the county asked the city to pay for half of the estimated $1.3 million bill.

“I do not think it’s fair. It’s not equitable,” Osterberg said. “We here in Ferguson don’t get the same.”

News 4 Investigates went to St. Louis County’s Transportation Department to get answers. Despite asking for an interview with the interim director, the County offered Spokesman David Wrone.

“We concluded that there is in fact a public safety issue on this roadway,” Wrone said.

Wrone said all the maintenance and jurisdiction of Chambers Road falls on the County.

When questioned why the city of Ferguson would pay for changes on the County’s road Wrone answered, “Well it is a major thoroughfare through the city of Ferguson and they asked for our help, we are certainly willing to do what we can, but finances are extremely tight for us.”

The County’s road department has a yearly budget of about $64 million. That’s more than double the annual budget for the entire city of Ferguson which is $27 million.

“How much is a life worth? Why don’t you just do it? But we don’t have a million dollars siting around, it doesn’t exist,” Wrone said.

The County does have money. Recently it received $193 million from the American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA), funds from the federal infrastructure bill, and a cut of the $512 million Rams lawsuit settlement.

When asked if any of those funds could be used towards the intersection project Wrone answered, “that would not be an issue I would not have any oversight or involvement in.”

According to the County, it would be facing a budget deficit this year if it weren’t for the ARPA funds. The County claims it hasn’t seen any funds from the federal infrastructure bill or the Rams settlement.

After News 4 Investigates interviewed Wrone, he reached out a week later saying the County made a deal on the intersection changes. Wrone said the County and city would split the cost, where the city would pay 20 percent of the bill and the County will pay the remaining 80 percent.

According to the County, asking cities to help pay for projects on county roads is “fairly common.” The County pointed to examples like Dorsett Road where Maryland Heights pitched in to fund improvements.

Changes at Chambers Road and Elizabeth Avenue are years away. The County’s current plan is to reconfigure the lanes and start construction of the roundabout at the end of next year and finish in early 2025.

Given that a fix would be about three years out, many people in Ferguson tell News 4 Investigates they are concerned about safety in the interim. As a temporary change the County plans to install barriers to narrow Chambers Roads to one lane in each direction both approaching and at the intersection. The County has not said when that change will happen.

For Heather Santorski it’s too little too late, her family paid the highest price when they lost Kaylin.

“It should be about all those who lost their lives,” Santorski said.