VISITORS heading to and from Bournemouth can rejoice after an extensive motorway closure reopened 36 hours ahead of schedule following the completion of a bridge replacement scheme.

Both carriageways of the M27 near Southampton have reopened following a £19m project to replace the Romsey Road bridge by lifting the new structure into place.

It follows a day of traffic chaos on roads in the area, with drivers sweltering in cars stuck in 80-minute queues.

The closure of the M27 between junction 3 (for Southampton city centre) and junction 4 (for the M3) resulted in motorists having to take long diversions to complete journeys that would normally take only a few minutes.

One driver said it took them two-and-a-half-hours to travel four miles.

Highways England spent weeks warning that the motorway was likely to remain closed until 5am on Monday.

But the exceptional progress made by engineers – and the lack of any major setbacks – enabled the organisation to reopen the motorway well ahead of schedule.

A Highways England spokesman said: "The M27 between junctions 3 and 4 near Southampton has fully reopened in both directions.

"The motorway was planned to be closed until 5am on Monday but work has been completed ahead of schedule and it has enabled the M27 to be fully reopened at 4pm on Saturday afternoon – 36 hours early."

Highways England project manager Andrew Winson added: "The installation of the new Romsey Road bridge over the M27 was a great success.

"We reopened fully 36 hours early, which is testament to the hard work of the team and all the contractors working on the installation.

"I would like to thank everyone involved, including road users, residents and businesses for their patience on what is the hottest day of the year so far.”

Work will now begin to connect the new bridge to the existing A3057 which runs above the motorway.

A final weekend closure will take place towards the end of the year to enable engineers to demolish the final part of the old bridge.

Earlier today ROMANSE reported "heavy delays" in and around Romsey, North Baddlesley and Eastleigh.

Southampton Travel tweeted: "We have long delays on some of our network due to the M27 closure. Bassett Avenue, Winchester Road, The Avenue and Burgess Road are all very slow. We suggest you don't use these roads today unless you have to."

In an earlier post it said: "The M27 closure means a lot of our roads are extremely busy, particularly in the corridor from Stoneham Way through Bassett and Winchester Road. Seek alternative routes if possible."

But Chilworth was reported to be "eerily quiet".

One man posted: "It's lovely. All I can hear is birdsong and the occasional jogger."