MOTORISTS are bracing themselves for traffic chaos as six cruise liners visit Southampton.

Council bosses have warned drivers to expect congestion as more than 12,000 cruise passengers arrive at the port tomorrow.

It follows hours of delays in January due to a combination of extensive roadworks at Central Bridge and five cruise ships in port, with motorists stranded and forced to relieve themselves at the side of the road.

And just two months after the city ground to a halt for the second time in four months when two ships arrived on March 25 leaving hundreds of motorists stranded on gridlocked roads for more than two hours.

Traffic misery also struck Southampton last week with the arrival of Cunard's Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth and in April when the 3,000-berth Azura docked for two days.

Now Southampton City Council is urging drivers to take alternative routes, particularly during the busiest times between 11am and 2pm.

The council say they and contractor Balfour Beatty Living Places (BBLP) have been working to reduce the expected congestion and electronic signs will be put on the main roads into the cities and around Town Quay and Platform Road giving motorists advance warnings of delays.

There will also be improved traffic signalling and more security staff on the dock gates to speed up access to the port and the cruise operators will be staggering the embark and disembark times.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines' Balmoral and Black Watch will be both arriving in port at 4.30am, MSC Opera will arrive at 4pm and then P&Os MV Aurora and MV Oceana and Royal Caribbean International's MS Independence of the Seas will all join them in the city at 4.30pm.

A Southampton city council spokesman said: “With six cruise ships due in port the council is advising drivers to expect some congestion on the approaches to the waterfront area of the city.

"Peak times for traffic movements in and out of the docks are expected to be between 11am and 2pm and drivers should plan their journey and use alternative routes into the city where possible.”

The number of cruise ships visiting the city has doubled in the last 10 years from 203 visits in 203 to more than 430 expected visits this year, bringing more than 1.6 million passengers into Southampton.

Road works currently taking place in Platform Road and Town Quay are expected to improve access to the docks and support the growth of the container port and cruise terminal, creating 500 new jobs.

Another 20,000 passengers are expected to arrive at the port on May 23 and 24 and a further 25,000 on May 30 and 31.