A new plan would make getting to Stonehenge easier. It may also ruin it
By AMANDA ERICKSON | The Washington Post | Published: January 13, 2017
Historians estimate that Stonehenge is at least 4,000 years old.
It can take about as long to reach the site by car. The two-lane route to the ancient stone circles in Wiltshire, England, is frequently jammed with traffic. (Which makes sense. The World Heritage Site, among Britain's top tourist attractions, pulls in more than 1.3 million visitors annually.)
The British government has come up with a fix: a $2.4 billion plan to construct a two-mile tunnel underneath the site. They'll also widen the nearby highway.
The plan has the support of English Heritage and UNESCO. But it has infuriated archaeologists who worry that the construction will destroy vital heritage. Andy Rhind-Tutt, who runs the local chamber of commerce, told CNN that the "destructive" tunnel will "put a time bomb of irreversible destruction on one of the world's greatest untouched landscapes."
Historian and author Tom Holland was even more explicit. "Recent finds show this place is the birthplace of Britain, and its origins go back to the resettlement of this island after the Ice Age," he told CNN. "It staggers belief that we can inject enormous quantities of concrete to build a tunnel that will last at best 100 years and therefore decimate a landscape that has lasted for millennia."
"Super-henge" was found less than two miles from Stonehenge in 2015. The massive prehistoric structures were discovered beneath a grassy bank. In a video, Holland argues his case. In the clip, he calls the area "the most archaeologically significant landscape anywhere in Europe."
"Lose it to the tunnel and you lose our beginnings," he says. Even the Druids are up in arms. They say that light pollution at one end of the tunnel will "obscure the view of sunset on the winter solstice -- one of the most important dates at Stonehenge -- when thousands gather to celebrate the shortest day of the year," according to CNN.
The government, though, is determined to press ahead with the plan. The wider road will ease traffic, officials say. And the tunnel will bring a sense of quiet to the area, bringing visitors a little closer to nature as they wander the mysterious stones.
National Trust director Helen Ghosh said in a statement: "I know there will be some sadness that people will no longer be able to see the stones from the road, but visitors will once again be able to hear the sounds of skylarks singing rather than the constant noise of traffic."
Construction is expected to start in 2020 and last four years.