A New Tunnel Under Stonehenge Stirs Up Heated Debate

More than 80 new road schemes will be announced on Monday as part of a £15billion ($23 billion) initiative to ease traffic problems in England. The plan, considered “the most far-reaching road programme in decades”, will include a £2billion proposal to install a tunnel under the prehistoric Stonehenge monument.

Within 20 years, the RAC foundation – a transport policy and research organization – predicts that an additional 7 million people will begin to utilize the road system in England and Wales, bringing the total number up to 43 million. In light of these increases, the government seeks to extend several major motorways and roads over the course of several years.

Specifically, the £2billion initiative will turn the A303 into a strategic gateway into the southwest. Currently, the 92-mile trunk road serves as the main route between Basingstoke in Hampshire to Honiton in Devon. One third of the road is a single stretch of dual carriageway that merges to become a single carriageway before passing Stonehenge. This path, known as the “holiday trail” is infamous for its traffic jams. The new plan will remedy the situation by adding an additional 1.8-mile dual-carriageway tunnel at the World Heritage site.

English Heritage, the custodian of the monument, and the National Trust, the foundation that owns the acres surrounding it, have recently joined forces in order to assess the proposal. Currently, there is disagreement among various groups over the feasibility and practicability of the carriageway.

Kate Fielden, an archaeologist and member of the Stonehenge alliance, expressed her main concern, “The bottom line is that the tunnel and portals are going to be an irreversible change in the landscape. We need to think really big on this.”

Similarly, the UK branch of Icomos, the international council which advises UNESCO on world heritage sites, has stated, “Associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the world heritage landscape that cannot be set aside, however great the benefits of a tunnel.”

Accordingly, the future of the project still remains unclear. In the meantime, the English Heritage and the National Trust are continuing to work with the Department for Transport in order to achieve a solution that would ultimately improve the site and reduce the congestion problems.