Deep road tunnel
Stonehenge hopes for deep road tunnel
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent
THE Government will consider making a road tunnel near Stonehenge much deeper than originally planned to avoid damaging neolithic and Bronze Age remains.
The Highways Agency, which manages England’s trunk roads, has admitted that its previous proposal to excavate and then cover a 1.2-mile ditch only 200 yards from the stones could damage burial mounds and medieval field boundaries in the area. Ministers pledged three years ago to bury the A303, the heavily congested holiday route to Devon, where it passes the World Heritage Site. In 1989 the Commons Public Accounts Committee described Stonehenge’s traffic-snarled setting as a national disgrace.
Stonehenge lies between the A303 and the A344, close to the junction of the two roads. Under the plan for the site, the A344 would be closed, the visitor centre relocated out of sight of the stones and the A303 turned into a dual carriageway.
The “cut and cover” tunnelling method was chosen because it was estimated to be £20 million cheaper than boring a much deeper tunnel. Under the original plan, engineering works so near to the standing stones would have blighted the area for three years. However, the Highways Agency has now agreed to reconsider the costs and benefits of boring the tunnel and has asked the contractors Costain and Balfour Beatty to produce a report by July.
“It would be cheaper to do a ‘cut and cover’ but there is an issue over the extra environmental gain from a bored tunnel,” Ed Bradley, the Highway Agency’s project manager, said. He added that evidence was emerging that bored tunnels were cheaper than originally thought, and that the extra cost was likely to be closer to £10 million than £20 million.
However, the Highways Agency is resisting pressure from heritage and environmental groups to make the tunnel twice as long as planned because this could double the overall cost of £125 million for the seven-mile project.
Kate Fielden, an archaeologist advising the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said that a “cut and cover” tunnel could destroy a group of burial mounds at the western entrance to the tunnel. She said: “‘Cut and cover’ would change the landscape right beside Stonehenge. A bored tunnel would be better but the one currently proposed is far too short.”
Ms Fielden said that Stonehenge was a national treasure, but the Government wanted to do a cheap deal for a new dual carriageway even if it meant damaging two thirds of the historical area around the stones.
A public inquiry into the scheme is likely to be held next year and construction could start in 2005, with the tunnel and new Winterbourne Stoke bypass opening in 2008.
Posted by phil
16th April 2002ce