DRIVERS are bracing themselves for years of disruption, as highways bosses plan to turn a 10-mile stretch of the M3 into a ‘smart’ motorway.

The £139 million project would be one of the biggest road schemes undertaken in south Hampshire in recent years, converting both carriageways between junction nine at Winchester and junction 14 at Eastleigh into so-called 'smart motorways'.

But the works are expected to clash with two other major road schemes, with fears motorists might be “caught up in miles upon miles of cones and narrow lanes”.

Highways England says the hard shoulder would be turned into a fourth lane to improve traffic flow, while emergency refuge areas would also be fitted along the length of the scheme.

New CCTV cameras and electronic information signs would also be installed.

As a result, highways bosses claim the scheme, which will start in March 2020 and last two years, will provide greater capacity, improve traffic flow, cut journey times and reduce accidents.

Meanwhile, the M27 will be upgraded between junctions four and 11, between March this year and March 2021.

There are also improvements planned at junction nine of the M3 near Winchester, joining it with the A34, from March 2021 to March 2023.

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “Roadworks are a pain at the best of times, but three major schemes in close proximity to each other and running at the same time may be rather excessive. We hope that Highways England can find ways to mitigate a worst case scenario where drivers are caught up in miles upon miles of cones and narrow lanes.”

Councillor Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council and director of the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “It is going to have a significant impact on commuter journeys and cause congestion but... it’s going the improve our motorway capacity by a third.”

Eastleigh MP Mims Davies added: “My constituents regularly speak with me over the constant queues of traffic across the Eastleigh constituency. I therefore welcome the introduction of smart motorway schemes.”

A Highways England spokesperson said: “We are currently designing the smart motorway.

"We have begun discussions with local authorities and technical stakeholders and will continue our design work and environmental assessments.

“Smart motorways cut congestion and lead to safer, quicker, more reliable and better journeys for motorists.

“We always work hard to keep traffic moving during roadworks and try to keep delays to an absolute minimum.”

The scheme will be the second on the M3 after a 13-mile stretch between Farnborough and the M25 was upgraded at a cost of £174m between 2014 and 2017.