EAST PEORIA — It's the intersection in East Peoria with the most accidents and it's about to get some construction attention. Beginning this year, changes in the way traffic flows in the commercial area in and around River Road, the Bob Michel Bridge, and West Washington and Camp streets are expected to ease congestion and make motorists more safe and less confused.
"Ultimately the changes are going to alleviate the traffic that at certain times gets backed up all the way to the top of the Bob Michel Bridge with cars coming in from Peoria," said Dan Decker, the commissioner on the East Peoria City Council who oversees the city's street department. "It's an attempt to fix the problem of congestion in the area and make it easier to get in and out of area businesses."
A second right turn lane will be added this year off of River Road onto West Washington Street at the approach to the Bob Michel Bridge. The city's contribution to the $1 million project is just $12,535, 5 percent of the traffic signal modernization costs and 100 percent of the intersection lighting cost. The bulk of the cost will be paid by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
That project, set to begin and finish this construction season, is prelude, however, to the main event. In 2020, the city plans to reconstruct where Camp Street and River Drive cross from an intersection with a traffic light that controls traffic to a no-light-signal roundabout. The construction that will last six months three summers from now, is expected to be disruptive to travel through the area.
"When you tear up an intersection like that it's going to be very disruptive," said Public Works Director Steve Ferguson. "But it will stay open the whole time. It's short-term pain, for long-term gain."
The roundabout at Camp Street and River Road is planned in part to solve a vexing problem that has existed since Embassy Suites opened more than nine years ago. IDOT would not approve a left turn lane from River Road on Conference Center Drive. Instead, motorists coming off the Bob Michel Bridge must make a counter-intuitive right hand turn off of Washington onto Conference Center Drive — in a direction away from Embassy Suites — and then circle around to the entrance of the hotel. That traffic pattern forced countless numbers of motorists to make technically illegal left-hand turns from River Road to Conference Center Drive.
"The roundabout will change that," Ferguson said. "One of the exits off the roundabout will be directly toward the hotel."
The project was first conceived in 2014 and is in its design phase. The estimated cost of $3 million is expected to rise by the 2020 construction season, Ferguson said. The cost is a 70 percent/30 percent split between a grant from Peoria/Pekin Urbanized Area Transportation Study and the city of East Peoria.
The reason for the changes are quantifiable. Traffic at Camp Street and River Road is 14,300 vehicles a day, according to IDOT statistics; 18,900 vehicles a day at West Washington Street and River Road. More accidents occur at West Washington and River Road than at any other intersection in the city; 98 accidents were reported there from Nov. 1, 2014, to March 16, 2017, according to statistics provided by the East Peoria Police Department. A short block away at Conference Center Drive, River Road and Camp Street — where the roundabout is proposed — there were 21 accident reports in that same time frame and 23 accidents at the intersection of Camp, Riverside, Camp Street Crossing entrance and the Riverfront Drive Flyover.
Lots of cars. Lots of crashes.
"We know it is something the city is going to have to get through," Commissioner Decker said. "But in the end I think we will have solved some problems."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.