Six times in little over a month, Operation Stack has caused travel disruption to motorists, businesses and tourists across Kent.
Thousands of lorries have parked on the M20 in queues stretching over 30 miles at its worst point, running for as long as five days, as the county has faced a perfect storm of factors leading to the chaos.
The desperate situation has been caused mainly by an industrial dispute, with ferry workers commandeering two cross-Channel ships in protest against likely job losses in Calais.
As well as taking away the capacity of two vessels, the two former MyFerryLink boats have blocked two berths at the French port.
Another cause of Operation Stack – and the most politically-charged factor – has been the rush of migrants trying to stow away on lorries and trains travelling to Britain, resulting in many deaths and disruption in the Channel Tunnel.
In the lead up to the chaos, the Port of Dover revealed it had just enjoyed a record year, with more than 2.4 million freight vehicles handling goods worth an estimated £100 billion through its docks.
Put a blockage in the pipe and the result is devastating.
Port of Dover chief executive Tim Waggot said in an open letter: “If anyone was still under the impression the Port of Dover was a quaint little port on the south east corner of the UK doing ferry trips for holidaymakers or booze cruisers to France, then the weeks of disruption have surely shattered that illusion.”
So far, no clear solution has been identified but major developments in recent days appear to show the gravity of the situation is getting through.
On Friday, the government announced 1,000 lorries would be kept in a car park at Ebbsfleet Interational Station to ease the build up of lorries on the M20.
Today it emerged that the owners of the former Manston airport are close to signing a deal to house lorries at its 800-acre site in the event of Operation Stack returning.
Home Secretary Theresa May assured MPs last month the government was treating the problems seriously when she appeared in front of the cross-party Home Affairs select committee.
It heard that Operation Stack was estimated to be costing £1 billion to the freight industry annually, a figure so high that chairman Keith Vaz asked for it to be repeated when he heard it.
He told Mrs May: “The people of Kent and MPs are going berserk about this. Are you ever going to solve the problem of Calais or will it be there forever?”
“At last the national government are waking up to the idea it is a national problem..." - Jo James, Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce
Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jo James said: “If there is a positive note to any of this, it is that it is not only seen as a Kent problem any more.
“At last the national government are waking up to the idea it is a national problem.
“This situation has been going on for more years than I would like to remember and it is about time those with the ability and influence to find a solution stopped the talking and started looking for and implementing a long-term viable solution.”
Kent MPs met at County Hall last month to discuss emergency proposals to halt the gridlock caused by Operation Stack.
Ashford MP Damian Green and his Folkestone and Hythe colleague Damian Collins revealed proposals to introduce a contraflow system on the northbound carriageway of the M20 for traffic heading to Dover and Folkestone.
Mr Green said: “For once, this was a useful meeting. I see no reason why a contraflow would not work – we have them all over the country all the time and it could be installed within a matter of days.”
Yet within three days the plans had been rejected by Highways England saying a contraflow would “present a significant and unacceptable risk” to road users and anyone working within Stack.
MP Damian Collins expressed his disappointment, accusing Highways England of being “too passive.”
He said: “We have been working hard to find a solution and we have to find a way that keeps the M20 open. I hope we will see pressure on Highways England to come up with an alternative. It has been far too passive and has to change.”
Any solution cannot come quickly enough for the Port of Dover – a victim of its own success.
Chairman George Jenkins said: “Businesses are operating very sophisticated supply chains, which depend on very good links, and the Port of Dover has an exceptional record on providing the best quality service.
“Where we are falling down is on their side of the water. I’ve made the government aware of our feelings. With a cork in the bottle you can only do so much.
“The government needs to understand how we can prevent this nuisance going into the future. We can’t have a few individuals wrecking the supply chain of the UK.
“One way or another we have to solve the problem of ferry workers in France, whose government lets them get away with unacceptable behaviour.
“There’s a place for one or two lorry parks to deal with contagion issues but you are treating the sore, not the sickness. A lorry park will only compensate for bad behaviour.”
As the costs of handling Operation Stack mount, the fallout over who should pay for the disruption has begun.
Eurotunnel has asked the British and French governments to repay nearly £7 million it has spent boosting security at the Channel Tunnel amid the deepening migrant crisis.
It said it was only fair that the state should foot the bill. The Home Office had already agreed to pay for new fencing.
The company has also warned there could be more disruption in the coming months, with thousands of refugees attempting to make their way from northern France to the UK.
Last month, Kent’s police and crime commissioner Ann Barnes wrote to the transport minister asking to be reimbursed the £700,000 cost of dealing with Operation Stack. At peak times, there have been 112 Kent Police staff working on the operation every 24 hours.
The Freight Transport Association says Stack costs each lorry parked on the M20 about £50 an hour while the Port of Dover estimates the bill to the UK at £250 million a day.
Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jo James said: “There are a lot of costs bandied about but I don’t think we’ll ever get to know the true cost because it is not just businesses which are affected but also residents and our long-term tourist trade.”
What is the solution to Operation Stack?