Work to enable a motorway to be turned into a car park in the event of post-Brexit queues will begin this weekend.
Highways England said the installation of a temporary steel barrier on the M20 in Kent is due to be completed by mid-March.
Overnight road closures will be in place between Junctions Nine (Ashford) and Seven (Maidstone).
From February 12 there will be narrow lanes and a 50mph speed limit on the motorway.
The barrier is part of Operation Brock, which will allow lorries travelling to mainland Europe to be held on the coastbound carriageway of the M20, while a contraflow system will aim to minimise the impact on people travelling within Kent.
The current method for dealing with lorries queuing due to disruption to rail or ferry services, known as Operation Stack, means sections of the motorway are closed, causing chaos for local journeys.
This was particularly bad in 2015 after strikes and migrant activity in Calais led to major delays.
Highways England, the Government-owned company which operates motorways and major A-roads, said Operation Brock will be a “significant improvement” and will keep the M20 open to traffic in both directions “in all but the most extreme circumstances”.
The organisation’s chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: “The steps we are putting in place on the M20 are based on our extensive experience of working with partners to keep the road network in this region operating safely and reliably.
“They incorporate the lessons learned from our experience of Operation Stack in 2015 and techniques from our major construction schemes in other parts of the country.
“They will make a significant difference to reducing the congestion and disruption to both the M20 itself and the wider road network and people of Kent.”
Steve Gooding, director of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said: “For drivers on the M20 already frequently dealing with a shut road, diversions, narrow lanes and reduced speed limits because of the building of a new junction and the upgrade of a long stretch of the motorway, the prospect of more work and overnight closures won’t be met with enthusiasm.
“If the project means that the next time there’s cross-channel disruption, whatever the cause, it won’t lead to gridlock on Kent’s roads, then motorists might judge the price worth paying, so long as Highways England does a first class job of keeping them well informed during the works.”
Last month a no-deal Brexit test was carried out, which saw 89 lorries descend on Manston Airport near Ramsgate and travel to Dover.
The Government plans to use the airfield as a giant HGV holding bay to prevent traffic jams around Channel ports.