The government is consulting on proposals to build a tunnel on the A303 near Stonehenge in Wiltshire as part of a £2bn upgrade to the road.
The proposals involve turning the road into a dual carriageway and building a 2.9km dual carriageway tunnel beneath the Stonehenge World Heritage site.
Currently a single carriageway road runs within 165m of the World Heritage Site, but it is congested by motorists slowing down to look at the stones. At present the road handles up to 24,000 vehicles per day, double its capacity, and motorists face delays of up to one hour in the August peak. The new scheme aims to improve journey times and will remove the sight and sound of traffic from Stonehenge.
The plans also include a bypass for the village of Winterbourne Stoke and improvements to existing junctions between the A303 and the intersecting A345 and A360 north-south roads. The £2bn figure is for the whole project, including routes to the M3 and M5.
A year ago an Atkins and Arup joint venture won a £17.5M contract to develop options to reroute the A303 at Stonehenge.
“This major investment in the South West will transform the A303 and benefit those locally by cutting congestion and improving journey times. It will also boost the economy, linking people with jobs and businesses with customers - driving forward our agenda to build a country that works for everyone and not just the privileged few,” said transport secretary Chris Grayling.
Campaign group the Stonehenge Alliance said that any tunnel must be long enough to avoid any damage to Stonehenge and its setting. It says the current plans for a 2.9km tunnel are unacceptable.
The original scheme was included in the Roads for Prosperity Programme, launched in 1989. Highways England says now that if all goes to plan, work could start in 2020 – more than 30 years later.
There will be two further consultations on plans to upgrade the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester and between Taunton and Southfields.
Following the consultation, the preferred route for the Stonehenge scheme will be announced later this year.
“The current proximity of the busy A303 to Stonehenge is far from ideal. We welcome any proposals that will improve connectivity around the site, whilst respecting the archaeological integrity and uniqueness of Stonehenge as a World Heritage Site,” said the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) head of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming.