PEORIA — Traffic circles, roundabouts, rotundas — central Illinois roads have become littered with the nontraditional intersections popularized in the United Kingdom, and traffic engineers say there is no end in sight.

In the last five years, five roundabouts have been built in Peoria. The first opened at Pennsylvania and Glen Oak avenues in October 2012 to help manage traffic around OSF Healthcare St. Francis Medical Center.

Since then roundabouts have replaced intersections in the Warehouse District at Washington and Harrison streets and in North Peoria at Allen and Hickory Grove roads, Allen and Alta Lane and Alta and Radnor Road.

“The ones that are in place are doing what they’re intended to do," City Engineer Bill Lewis said. “It’s moving traffic through safely, it’s orderly, they have a calming effect on the traffic, it’s slowing the speeds down and I think in the end it’s making for safer travel through the area.”

Peoria drivers have had some complaints about the landscaping in the middle of roundabouts, but Lewis said it serves a purpose beyond aesthetics.

“It focuses the driver’s attention on where they need to be,” he said. “As you get to the intersection all you’re really worried about is the traffic that’s on your left. So you don’t have to worry about straight across from you, you don’t have to worry about traffic on your right in a roundabout. So the landscaping focuses your attention on where your key conflict points are and then takes the rest of that stuff away.”

Lewis said as more have been added, he has been swayed to the pro-roundabout side.

“I don’t know if I would have said that 10 years ago,” he said. “Like a lot of people, just never using one or being familiar with them and unsure of how they would work, but I live in North Peoria so I use the ones that are out there every day. I know what it was like before they were put in and the traffic is much better today than it was before.”

The Allen-Alta and Radnor-Alta intersections see a high volume of traffic and hadn’t handled it well before the roundabouts were built, resulting in bad accidents, Lewis said.

But by design, roundabouts see far fewer accidents than traditional intersections, and when accidents occur they are less severe.

“(A roundabout) orientates the traffic at an angle so when they approach the intersection they’re not squared up with the intersection anymore. They’re at an angle to where if there were an accident, those are more glancing blows,” Lewis said.

Ty Livingston, director of planning and community development in East Peoria, said the main challenge of the roundabouts is still the public’s familiarity with them - or lack thereof. But he and director of public works, Dennis Barron, agree the safety factor makes them proponents for roundabouts.

“You typically find if one party is not paying attention, that somebody else is,” Livingston said. “We heard, when it first was installed, it was ‘I almost got hit here, I almost got ran into,’ but the key operative there was ‘almost.’”

East Peoria started the local shift toward roundabouts, opening the first in the area that didn’t contain a town square at Clock Tower Drive and Washington Street.

Since it was built before the construction of the Levee District was completed in 2013, the department of public works couldn’t conduct a traffic study. However, the only hiccup in traffic comes with the mid-afternoon release of Caterpillar Inc. employees.

“They can tend to block up that roundabout during that time period,” Barron said. “Usually it ends up people not sitting any longer than they would for a stoplight anyway.”

Outside of rush hour, traffic moves 20 percent faster through a roundabout than through a four-way stop. Drivers also save more time compared to a signalized intersection, where they would potentially spend 75 percent of their time waiting for the light to turn, Barron said.

“And you’re technically eliminating that full stop and having to start the vehicle back up, or in the cases of signalized intersections, it’s sitting there while the light is red and then having to start back,” Livingston added. “In operating a vehicle, one of the major fuel consumers is that dead stop to progressing up to your projected speed.”

Drivers in both cities have become more comfortable with roundabouts, but there is still resistance to building more, namely the intersection of Allen and Willow Knolls Drive in Peoria.

“It’s likely it would've had to have been a dual-lane roundabout due to the amount of traffic that goes through the intersection, and once you starting getting to a dual-lane roundabout, the traffic movements through that can be more confusing for people,” Lewis said.

After extensive research and surveys from the public that favored traditional intersections 70 percent to 30 percent, the city decided against a roundabout.

In another high-traffic area across the river, East Peoria is going forward with plans to construct a roundabout at the intersection of Camp Street and River Road just east of the Bob Michael Bridge.

The project received federal funding through the Peoria-Pekin Urbanized Area Transportation Study, accounting for 70 percent of the construction costs, which Livingston says demonstrates the growing regional significance of roundabouts.

Most likely, the construction will close the intersection to traffic beginning in March 2020, overlapping with the closure of the Murray Baker Bridge that carries Interstate 74 of the Illinois River.

The Illinois Department of Transportation was supportive of the intersection and bridge redecking sharing a construction season because it will force the redirected traffic to follow the posted detours, Barron said.

“Any time you direct traffic one way, they find alternates, so this closes some of their alternates so you have to kind of follow their detour which makes it flow the way it’s supposed to for the I-74 diversion,” he said.

Livingston said some of the businesses surrounding the Camp-River intersection have shown concern about the intersection closing, but the city will work diligently to ensure there are alternative routes for traffic to reach them.

Despite the headaches that construction brings, Barron said when it comes time to improve an intersection, the advantages of roundabouts can’t be ignored.

“It has to be considered,” he said. “I do believe there are great places for them and I also believe that there’s probably some not so great places for them and hopefully it’s not hindsight that lets us know which is which.”

Kelsey Watznauer can be reached at kwatznauer@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @kwatznauer.