Holidaymakers have been warned they could face a summer of repeated weekend travel disruptions after long queues in Kent were finally reduced on Sunday following days of blocked roads.
Chaotic scenes of bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching for miles marred the start of the jaunt as schools separated for the holidays.
As the disruption in Dover eased on Sunday morning, the AA branded Folkestone a new ‘holiday hell spot’ as people faced long delays approaching the Eurotunnel.
The motoring organization said long waits at Folkestone had “decreased considerably” by late afternoon, but raised concerns that such congestion could be repeated this summer.
Jack Cousens, AA traffic policy manager, said: ‘It was an incredible weekend of traffic jams in Dover and Folkestone, and holidaymakers will have been left frustrated and angry at the delays.
“Good progress was made throughout the day and the number of waits of more than five hours before reaching the check-in counter has decreased considerably. We hope that by tonight we will be back at normal traffic levels.
“However, we are concerned that we may face a repeat of this congestion throughout the summer.
“Drivers who need to use both Dover and Folkestone to get to Europe on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings by the time schools reopen could see a repeat of these delays throughout the summer.”
The Port of Dover said the fact it was able to clear traffic this weekend demonstrates its “summer plan will work for the remainder of the holiday period” – but the AA said “some progress significant” would be needed to help alleviate congestion in the coming weeks.
With the coastal M20 closed to non-freight traffic as part of Operation Brock to manage traffic, the National Motorways warned on Sunday of ‘significant delays’ in Kent for people heading to Dover or Eurotunnel.
A man, who was traveling with his wife and two children on Sunday by Eurotunnel, said it was a “stressful” experience being stuck in the car for eight hours before boarding a train.
The man, who only gave his name as Eugene, told the PA news agency that while traveling around France by car is right for his family, he would reconsider if every trip risked entailing such significant delays.
The 53-year-old said: ‘I’ve been on this trip many times before the pandemic and before Brexit. No such issues other than the occasional slight lag. Too bad that happened.
Queues at the Port of Dover were reduced to around an hour on Sunday, with relatively empty lanes in stark contrast to the traffic jams of the previous two days.
A port spokesman said the French border was “complete and everything was normal” on Sunday morning.
Additional post-Brexit border checks and understaffing by French authorities at checkpoints in Dover have been blamed for the delays.
Port authorities said the work undertaken by them and their partners, ‘including the strong support of French border colleagues’, to clear traffic this weekend demonstrates that the Port of Dover’s ‘summer plan will work during the rest of the holiday period”.
Around 72,000 passengers – more than 200 miles of tourist and freight traffic combined – had been handled through the weekend through Sunday morning.
Port chief executive Doug Bannister thanked travelers and Dover residents for their understanding during what he described as a “difficult time”, and said he was “incredibly grateful to everyone who has turned the tables, from the French and UK authorities to our ferry operators, Kent partners and our own port staff”.
Mark Simmonds, director of policy and external affairs at the British Ports Association, said he was pleased to hear that the situation in Dover had improved.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘We have been told the port expects these cabins to be fully staffed throughout the summer.
Passengers embarking on cross-Channel crossings from Dover must clear French border controls before they can board a ferry.
Elsewhere on the roads, the AA said traffic appeared fine on Sunday “apart from a few isolated pockets of congestion”.