Most of the time, most days of the year, cars and lorries trundle down the motorway and through the tunnel. But sometimes things go wrong, and it's time for Operation Stack. Operation What, I hear you say? Basically it's Nightmare City, baby.
In winter it's the weather and the ferries can't run. In summer it tends to be strikes. But in any event the traffic keeps coming and Kent Police close off a section of the M20 to use as a lorry park. This is fairly normal, and I dare say the locals shrug their shoulders, mutter "Typical! " and get on with their lives. But if you're not a local, here's what happens:
Soon after leaving Bristol you see a sign on the overhead gantry to tell you "Operation Stack M20 closed J11 to J9" which is a bit of a bind as the tunnel is J11a. There is however no further information in advance - that's the last sign you see until you are stuck in traffic in the run up to where the M20 splits off the M25. Not even when you get to the M25, where you might expect quite a lot of traffic to be going to the M20. Finally, with about 5 miles to go, there is another sign telling cars to take the A2 M2. By the time we reached it, traffic was queueing back. And there were lots of last minute lane changes as people realised what was going on.
So you get into lane and follow the signs for the A2 M2. And trundle along until you see a sign that says M20 Channel Tunnel. On no account follow that clear and obvious instruction - because it will direct you right back to the section of motorway which is closed. I say that because I am the man who followed the signs. Do not follow my example. Ignore the signs and head for Dover. Then double back to Folkestone and the tunnel.
If you don't you find yourself in a queue on the M20 as the cops take all the traffic off at J9 Lenham, the turn for Maidstone services. Lorries get put back onto the motorway, in a sort of hellish waiting area which must be enormous fun for the drivers. Cars get sent off round the back roads of Kent, queueing for miles until eventually they emerge back onto the M20.
Considering that this happens fairly often and has done for years, the warning and direction signs are lousy. I was annoyed that I followed the signs to avoid the M20 and then the signs directed me back onto the closed road. If the motorway is closed they should change the sign to say Follow Diversion.
Then when we came off the M20 it was hard to tell that there were two lanes and certainly there were no signs to say cars right lane, lorries left lane. Driving through the back roads the diversion signs were there but they were just little temporary signs pulled out of the boot of a cop car.
I got the impression that nobody can agree who should pay for traffic control, so the cops are stuck with doing the best they can with a budget of tuppence halfpenny. Put up proper signs to warn drivers and they will be able to get into the right lane in good time. Traffic flows more easily with fewer delays. Other counties can deal with diversions, why can't Kent?