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article imageControversial Stonehenge tunnel given OK by U.K. government

By Karen Graham     Jan 15, 2017 in Science
Plan to build a 1.8-mile tunnel near Stonehenge and widen nearby highway A303 has been given the green light by the British government. Construction is estimated to cost £2 billion ($2.4 billion).
Stonehenge, located in Wiltshire, England, is probably the most famous prehistoric monument in the world, dating back at least 5,000 years. Highway A303, which passes by the monument only a few hundred meters away, is in itself an ancient road, having served the public for hundreds of years.
The ancient monument is not only an archaeological site but a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Evidence found in and around the site suggest that it was of ritual importance to neo-pagans and Romano-British people in the Roman Period, according to English Heritage.
The mysterious circle of standing stones at Stonehenge is one of the most iconic ancient sites in Eu...
The mysterious circle of standing stones at Stonehenge is one of the most iconic ancient sites in Europe
Leon Neal, AFP
Proposals for the Tunnel were numerous
But even an ancient monument can't avoid modern traffic jams. Even though at one time anyone could park and get out of their cars to wander among the stones, things changed. As the public became more mobile, A303 became a snarling traffic jam at times, especially during the two solstices every year.
Admission fees were added, a well as a visitors center and parking lot. Buses transported sightseers back and forth, but still, the traffic came. To mitigate traffic congestion, proposals for a bored tunnel were first brought up in 1995 but the government insisted on a "cut and covered" tunnel, according to the BBC. The first plan was unveiled in 1999.
While that plan fell by the wayside, along with other plans that created controversy, proposals for a tunnel were shelved by the Labour government in 2005 because of rising costs of construction, and the whole idea for a tunnel was shelved in 2007. But the idea resurfaced in 2014 and in December of that year the coalition government gave its support to the plan for a 1.8-mile tunnel near the monument as well as the expansion of the A303.
The proposed plan has the backing of UNESCO. However, the Stonehenge Alliance, English Heritage and the National Trust will support the plan if the tunnel is "the longest tunnel possible," to avoid any further damage to Stonehenge and its setting.
Traffic on A303 quite often queues up as the road goes past Stonehenge.
Traffic on A303 quite often queues up as the road goes past Stonehenge.
Stonehenge Visitor's Guide/Chris Ison/PA Wire
Why the tunnel should not be built
The whole idea of adding a traffic tunnel at Stonehenge has raised the ire of archaeologists and academics who argue the tunnel and roadworks could destroy vital heritage, according to CNN affiliate WTVR Richmond. Some experts contend that light pollution at one end of the tunnel will obscure the view of the sunset during the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
And there are individuals who don't support the government's proposed plan to mess with Stonehenge. Keith Lamdin, from West Overton, Wiltshire, wrote a letter that was published by the Guardian. In his letter, Lamdim talks about growing up near the monument. He writes: "When I was a child we were able to park nearby and walk among the stones. Now you can only get near it by paying the fee and becoming a tourist. Apart from the two solstices, the turning of this ancient monument into a tourist attraction is to rip it from its context and its original purpose."
Keith then talks about the heritage of the ancient site, and how a tunnel will keep passersby from viewing its majesty and splendor. He talks about how we are turning all our national heritage sites into tourist destinations that have to contribute money to the local economies. He ends his letter by writing: "How long will it be before we have to pay to walk on the Ridgeway, or visit the West Kennett Long Barrow or will no longer be able to drive through Avebury?"
More about Stonehenge, road tunnel plans, government approval, Archaeological site, UNWSCO world heritage site
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