British authorities approved plans for a contentious and long-delayed road tunnel under the site of Stonehenge - but altered its route so it won't impede views of the sun during the winter solstice.
Stonehenge draws over a million tourists a year as well as hippies, druids and pagan worshippers who flock to its stones to celebrate the summer and winter solstices. The standing stones are aligned in such a way that they perfectly frame the sunrise at midsummer and sunset at midwinter, contributing to the site's mystique. But the area has been marred for decades by the nearby A303, a perpetually congested road that is part of the main route linking London to the counties of Devon and Cornwall.
The government said the 1.8-mile (2.9-kilometer) tunnel will bury a frequently gridlocked road that now runs past the prehistoric monument in southwest England.
The tunnel will "reconnect the two halves of the 6,500 acre (2,600 hectare) World Heritage site which is currently split by the road, and remove the sight and sound of traffic from the Stonehenge landscape," Britain's Department for Transport said. It said the revised route will be 50 yards (meters) further from the giant stone circle than previously proposed "to avoid conflicting with the solstice alignment."
But critics say the tunnel will disturb a rich archaeological site. Tony Robinson, host of the TV archaeology show "Time Team," accused the government of "driving a thousand coaches and horses through the World Heritage Site." University of Buckingham archaeologist David Jacques said "the Stonehenge landscape is unutterably precious and you tamper with it at your peril." Conservationists, including the United Nations heritage body UNESCO, say diverting the road with a bypass would be a less disruptive option.
Stonehenge, built between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C. for reasons that remain mysterious, is one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions.
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