A NINE-MONTH traffic 'nightmare' awaits drivers as a major roadworks project prepares to get under way.

That was the warning from residents living near Headley Way and Cherwell Drive as plans for the next phase in Oxfordshire County Council's Access to Headington project were unveiled yesterday.

The £12.5m project aims to improve roads, roundabout and traffic lights across Headington in a bid to reduce congestion and encourage more cyclists.

But as the latest and most controversial phase was put on display at a public exhibition at Headington Pre-School residents and councillors warned motorists to expect 'complete gridlock.'

One Staunton Road resident, Lesley Mallinder, said the roadworks would be a 'nightmare' when they start next month.

She told Oxford Mail: "Obviously it is going to be absolutely horrific when they are doing the work.

"It will be very difficult and only time will tell if it is a huge improvement or not."

This phase of the sweeping roadwork project across Headington was initially pencilled in for July but the county council made the decision to delay it until the New Year, blaming an 'unacceptable' strain on the traffic network.

The work will see new pedestrian crossings at all Headley Way junctions as well as new redesigned roundabouts with signal junctions where Headley Way meets Cherwell Drive.

As it is being carried out so close to the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust issued a warning earlier this month urging visitors and patients to plan ahead or face a two-hour wait to make it through the roadworks and find a parking space.

The Trust said to avoid travelling by car 'unless there is no other option.'

A volunteer at the hospital who was at the public exhibition, Gwilym Scourfield, said: "We are quite worried about the works and I don't know if it will be any better afterwards.

"The problem is the volume of traffic. If there is an emergency vehicle that needs to get in there and the road is full of people trying to get through it will be a problem.

"At the hospital people come in for their appointments even now an hour or two hours earlier and they're still not arriving on time because of the traffic."

Marston and Northway county councillor Mark Lygo was also at the exhibition and said residents he had spoken to in the area felt their concerns hadn't been listened to.

He said: "The concerns are when the roadworks start in January we are expecting more motorists on the road at that time of year as well as cyclists.

"I can't see that there will be much of an improvement. In my personal view it will probably improve about 30 per cent in terms of less traffic."

Some residents were more optimistic and Headington local Tony Turton said: "I am looking forward to it being completed, I appreciate its going to be particularly disruptive while the work is going on.

"But hopefully we can get through that and see the benefits of the scheme."

Also defending the scheme, project sponsor at the county council, Isaac Webb, said despite the short-term pain there would be long-term benefits.

He said: "Headington is growing as a popular part of Oxford and part of that is there is an increased degree of travel and we are trying to manage that increase.

"The first six weeks of the work, these are going to be the worst. We have to hold our hands up and say our disruption is part of the two-hour hospital delay in those first six weeks.

"Its going to be very tricky to get around Headley Way while the work is ongoing."

Skanska will start setting up ahead of the works on January 16, but said that this will not affect traffic.

Construction work will then start on January 23 and is expected to last 36 weeks with severe disruption expected.