Plans to build a major traffic tunnel under the Stonehenge World Heritage site in England have prompted outrage from historians, describing the roadway as an “act of vandalism.”
On Thursday, the UK Department for Transport announced major plans to transform the A303 highway, which runs alongside the popular tourist destination, into a tunnel to help relieve traffic congestion and travel times. According to the announcement, the tunnel would also cut down on visual and noise distractions for tourists visiting Stonehenge.
The proposed tunnel, which is estimated to cost £2 billion (C$3.2 billion), will stretch nearly three kilometres.
But historians and history buffs are already rallying against the proposed roadway, suggesting the construction could damage archaeological sites surrounding the World Heritage site.
“I think it would be a catastrophe — an act of vandalism that would shame our country and our generation,” historian Tom Holland said in a YouTube video opposing the tunnel.
“Stonehenge did not exist in isolation. Stretching all around it are traces stamped, not just in the field, in the very subsoil of Salisbury Plain — the most archaeologically significant landscape anywhere in Europe. Lose it to the tunnel and you lose our beginnings.”
Researchers continue to work in the area surrounding Stonehenge. As recently as September 2015, researchers discovered evidence of standing stones believed to be the remnants of a major prehistoric stone monument near the Stonehenge ruins.
The Stonehenge Alliance, a group which rallies against any development surrounding the site, has also unleashed a Twitter campaign, urging U.K. residents to oppose the tunnel by emailing UNESCO and the UK National Trust.
The chairman of Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust, Andy Rhind-Tutt, described the tunnel as a “self-destructing time bomb,” urging people to take part in public consultations regarding development of the rest of the A303 highway and the tunnel. Public consultations will run from January to March.
According to The Telegraph, plans to build the tunnel come after 30 years of delay due to concerns about the impact to the site.
The report notes heritage groups that manage the historical site, including UNESCO, have supported construction of the tunnel in hopes it will improve tourists’ experiences.
“The heavy traffic and constant noise from the road compromises our enjoyment and understanding of the monument and the road cuts the stones off from much of the surrounding ancient landscape and many prehistoric monuments,” the English Heritage said in 2015, when the government first proposed the tunnel.
Work on the proposed tunnel isn’t set to begin until at least 2020.