MOTORISTS are being warned to steer clear of the city centre later this week in a bid to prevent Southampton grinding to a halt again.

The city was besieged with the worst traffic chaos it had ever seen earlier this year with people trapped in their cars for hours due to continuing roadworks and the arrival of five cruise ships in dock.

But city bosses hope to avoid such mayhem on the roads this Thursday when two large cruise ships – Oceana and Oriana – dock in Southampton, bringing thousands of passengers heading to and from Dock Gate 4, through the ongoing roadworks on Platform Road.

A raft of measures are being brought into action in a bid to keep traffic flowing, including an appeal to drivers who do not need to be in the area to avoid coming in from the M271 during the busiest times – 11am to 2pm.

Other steps include the suspension of works at Town Quay eastbound, allowing the road to be reopened for the day only to create additional capacity on the roads.

It will be closed again on Thursday evening to allow resurfacing to be completed the following week.

The gyratory around Queens Park now has a designated right-hand lane for Dock Gate 4 traffic only and the left-hand lane is reserved for all other traffic, while yellow box road markings will be installed at the entrance to the gyratory to deter traffic from blocking entry, as well as the yellow box hatching at the Canute Road junction has been refreshed and extended.

The junction at the entrance to Dock Gate 4 has been widened for better traffic flow.

The reason for the roadworks is to improve access to the Eastern Docks, with the hope of significantly reducing journey times and congestion when cruise ships are in the city.

Transport bosses say the work will also support the continued growth of the cruise and port business which will provide nearly 500 new job opportunities.

Councillor Jacqui Rayment, Southampton City Council’s Cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “We are spending over £20m on improving roads in this area – the highest level of investment in the city’s roads for over a decade.

“This will lead to significant benefits for residents, businesses and visitors to the city but making such changes is going to cause some disruption.

“We regret that some of our residents, visitors and businesses may be inconvenienced but we are doing everything in our power to alleviate the worst of the congestion and to ensure people have access to the latest travel information.”

Expected peak times for cruise traffic are between 8.15am and 10am for disembarkation and 11.30am and 2pm for embarkation but Associated British Ports has vowed to deploy extra staff at security checkpoints to speed access to the docks.