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Mayor Jones signs 'Safer Streets' bill into law, earmarks $46 million to improve traffic, pedestrian safety

A massive chunk of the $74 million proposal would fund improvements to street design, pedestrian safety, and infrastructure upgrades on roads.

ST. LOUIS — After the deadliest three-year stretch in St. Louis streets on record, Mayor Tishaura Jones signed a $74 million bill into law, dedicating roughly $47.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding towards safety improvements for commuters and pedestrians. 

The Board of Aldermen approved the proposal last month. It includes $12 million for engineers to design blueprints to calm traffic, $14.5 million for ADA upgrades, $3.5 million to improve safety at the ten most dangerous traffic hot-spots in the city.

During the Wednesday morning press conference, Jones grieved the young lives lost or changed in violent wrecks, and vowed her plan will transform a suffering city into a safer one.

"They're tragic reminders to all St. Louis drivers: slow down, obey the rules of the road, or it may cost you your life," she said.

The mayor paid respects to the families of four teen victims who died in a fatal crash near South Grand and Forest Park Avenue, and the family of Janae Edmondson, the Tennessee teen who lost her legs when a driver ignored the rules of the road.

St. Louis traffic deaths reached 78 fatalities in 2022, more than double what they were in 2014.

She highlighted the city's focus on the three 'E's: education, engineering and enforcement. 

"We need to do more to hold reckless drivers accountable," the mayor said, pleading with adults to set an example when they get behind the wheel.  

"How can we teach our teenagers how to drive in a city where the rules of the road feel more like suggestions," she said, referring to the rampant string of scofflaws who run red lights at will. 

Jones and Board of Aldermen President Megan Green both endorsed red light cameras as a way to crack down on enforcement. That plan has not cleared City Hall and could face legal scrutiny if it does.

The Missouri Supreme Court struck them down eight years ago.

Commuter safety advocates fear wide roads bring out the worst in drivers, inviting reckless maneuvers and dangerous behavior behind the wheel. They hope smart engineering can nudge the subconscious of drivers towards safer decisions.

Consultants have already studied St. Louis streets for years. The Safer Streets Bill spends $12 million for experts to draw up blueprints this year before construction begins in 2024.

In the meantime, Jones called on Governor Parson to send reinforcements from the Missouri Highway Patrol.  

"Four highways go through the city, and not having any enforcement from State Patrol makes us all less safe," she said. 

Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain John Hotz said troopers already assist the city in some select traffic enforcement, but face staffing restraints at their current budget levels. 

"The Patrol continues to provide periodic assistance on the interstates within the City of St. Louis as well as other law enforcement support as funding and staffing levels allow," Hotz told 5 On Your Side in an email. 

"Historically, the City of St. Louis has patrolled interstates within their jurisdiction and did not seek Missouri State Highway Patrol assistance," Hotz said. "The Patrol’s state-authorized staffing levels and resources have been based on this arrangement.

"Even if full staffing levels were reached throughout the Patrol, Troop C would require a very substantial number of additional staff and resources to cover the interstates in the city of St. Louis on a full-time basis."

Before Jones ramped up calls for tougher enforcement, she called on Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to "take some accountability" for the traffic accident that cost Janae Edmondson her legs. 

Gardner defended herself at a press conference and in a friendly media interview last week as "the only voice of the people," and claimed she still enjoys a broad base of political support in the city. 

If Gardner truly has the political backing she claims to have, would Jones still vote for her?

"That's a tough question," the mayor said. "Her election's not today. And what we're doing in the interim is trying to make sure that we're pulling all of the pieces together and pull in all of the people that are involved in our criminal justice system to the table. I think everyone can agree that our criminal justice system needs improvement and is broken."

Credit: KSDK
A graph of traffic deaths per year in St. Louis. Date courtesy MoDOT.

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