FOR the thousands of drivers snared in jams coming into Southampton yesterday morning it was the question that left them baffled - when was a set of roadworks not a set of roadworks?

Council chiefs had warned motorists to expect delays coming into the city along Redbridge Road for the start of resurfacing from 10.30am.

So drivers approaching the route from Redbridge Causeway and the M271 during rush-hour were given a shock after being confronted with cones restricting them to just one lane.

The measures were put in place to slow down traffic and ensure the safety of workers in the build-up to the work being started.

Council chiefs said they were confident problems would ease from today, with fewer cones in place, but admitted drivers would still suffer jams over the next month.

At the peak of yesterday's morning rush hour, tailbacks formed from Ashurst to Redbridge Causeway.

Transport chiefs soon realised the traffic problems were mainly caused by restrictions at the start of Redbridge Causeway.

They promptly shifted the cones along the road, to begin nearer the flyover, where they will now remain while the actual roadworks take place daily from 10.30am along Redbridge Road.

The inbound carriageway will be reduced to one lane until 7pm.

Councillor Richard Williams, Cabinet member for environment and transport, said they had not known the extent of the calming measures brought in by the contractors, Ringway Ltd, before yesterday.

He admitted lessons would be learnt for future works. "Contractors do always say that the first day is always the worst day.

"The knowledge we have is that health and safety measures must be in place to precede the works. There will be problems for motorists during the works but we are trying to do it as safely and as quickly as possible.

"The contractors decided to do what was best health and safety-wise and cannot be blamed for wanting to make things as safe as possible.

"We will be having an inquiry into why they did what they did, whether any mistakes were made and whether there was anything more we should have done."

Among those caught up in yesterday's delays was Fran Barrett, 48, whose four-mile journey from her home in Totton to Millbrook Trading Estate took 90 minutes - more than an hour longer than usual.

Mrs Barrett, a reception secretary at Williams Shipping, said: "It was just a complete nightmare. I left at 8am to start at 8.30am and didn't arrive until 9.30am.

"It was totally gridlocked."

A spokeswoman for the AA said: "This is another example of how a lack of detailed information can cause major problems for motorists.

"Clearer information needs to be given out, saying exactly what problems there will be.

"It's impossible for drivers to be able to differentiate between cones where actual roadworks are taking place and cones laid out for road safety measures in the run-up to roadworks."