First Alert 4 Investigates: Dangerous North County intersection fix stalled over money

Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 6:30 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV) - St. Louis County is putting the brakes on safety changes to an intersection that’s been the site of multiple deadly car crashes.

Last year, the county agreed to overhaul the intersection of Chambers Road and Elizabeth Avenue in the City of Ferguson, but said that plan has been paused due to funding.

“How many lives have to be lost before they say enough is enough?” Elizabeth Cane questioned.

Cane’s grandsons, 20-year-old Lashawn Hopkins and his 18-year-old brother Ronald Washington, were killed in a crash at the intersection in January 2022. Ferguson police said the brothers ran a red light and hit a truck that was turning.

Cane doesn’t know what happened in the crash. She believes a hill at the intersection creates blind spots.

“Two fantastic lives were lost that day and we cant get it back,” Cane said. “One left a son that will never know the joys of growing up with a father.”

The area is known for a growing list of crashes.

In June 2022, 29-year-old mom Kaylin Santorski 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.

The road is owned by St. Louis County. For years the county claimed it couldn’t afford to fix the road and wanted the City of Ferguson to pitch in. First Alert 4 Investigates asked David Wrone, Public Information Officer for the St. Lois County Transportation Department, about that last year.

“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,” Wrone said.

Days after that interview, the county announced a safety fix which involved taking Chambers Road from four lanes to three, and adding a roundabout. The total cost of the project was estimated at nearly $1.3 million. As part of the deal the City of Ferguson would pay $260,000.

Since then, things changed. The city said it couldn’t pay to fix a county road and the county put the project on hold.

The county declined First Alert 4 Investigates’ request for an interview. Wrone sent an email writing:

“Earlier this year, the City of Ferguson informed St. Louis County of its decision to withdraw its earlier agreement to fund 20 percent of the Chambers Road roundabout project. We’ve put that project on hold as we work to secure federal funding.

The City of Ferguson also informed us that it no longer supports reducing - on an interim basis - the number of driving lanes on Chambers between N. Florissant and Forestwood Drive. That work, therefore, has been canceled.”

Both St. Louis County and Ferguson remain committed to improving safety in this corridor. We’re optimistic that the significant upgrades we made last year to the signals controlling eastbound Chambers traffic at N. Elizabeth will reduce crashes. Our signals group replaced the old, single-head mast arm with a much longer mast arm that sports three heads - one of which is dedicated solely to the control of left-turning traffic from eastbound Chambers to northbound N. Elizabeth.

The new, three-headed mast arm provides much better visibility and clarity to left-turning drivers. (A ‘head’ is the structure in which a signal system’s ‘red,’ ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ lights are housed.)

We respectfully decline your interview request.”

Cane believes the upgraded traffic lights aren’t the same as a fix.

“That’s a step in the right direction but that’s certainly not all that needs to be done,” Cane said.

Cane keeps questioning the bottom line, saying it’s families like hers who are ultimately paying.

“They weren’t the first lives lost there and they won’t be the last,” Cane added.

This year, the county was up against a $44 million budget deficit, but at the same time it is flush with cash collecting $169 million dollars from the Rams settlement. The county also picked up $193 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) but didn’t choose to put any of that money towards this project.

First Alert 4 Investigates reached out to County Councilwoman Rita Heard-Days who represents Ferguson and is waiting to hear back.