After a 50-meter realignment and budget increase of £200 million, UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has given final approval to a 1.8 mile long tunnel that will run under the ancient site of Stonehenge, replacing the current highway that just skirts the prehistoric site. Many archaeologists felt the massive construction would have far reaching effects on the surrounding area and strongly opposed the project.
Concerns that one of the entrances to the proposed tunnel would interfere with the view of the setting sun on the winter solstice at the World Heritage site had also become a rallying cry for the Druid and Pagan communities that celebrate rites at Stonehenge, and for members of the public concerned for its preservation. A 50-meter shift in the tunnel entrance in the final plan will at least allow the solstice view to be accessible.
As noted in Tunnel Under Stonehenge? (Committee for Cultural Policy, June 22, 2017), “The tunnel is designed to relieve congestion on the antiquated A303 highway that presently runs right through the site. The A303 is a heavily trafficked link to destinations in southwest England between two major highways, the M3 and M5.”
Through Stonehenge, the traffic slows in the areas where the stones can be seen from the road, creating bottlenecks, as well as exhaust and noise pollution, that interfere with visitor experience in the heritage site, according to supporters of the tunnel project. The tunnel will be 2.9 km long and travel up to 40 meters below ground at its deepest. This is as long as a tunnel can be without requiring massive ventilation tubes to the surface, which is not possible at the Stonehenge site.
Although the tunnel may improve the current “visitor experience,” concerns that the creation of the tunnel may destroy future understanding of the site remain. Archaeologists and preservationists say that the tunnel will have dire effects on the nearby site of Blick Mead, where recent discoveries have shed light on how the builders of Stonehenge once lived. Archeologists fear that the concrete tunnel will change the character of the soil where potential artifacts are buried, accelerating their breakdown and causing them to disappear from the archeological record forever.
Though fears and controversy remain, the decision is final. There will be a tunnel under Stonehenge.