THE GOVERNMENT'S decision to rethink the Stonehenge tunnel means work will not get started until 2010 at the earliest, five years later than planned.
On Monday transport minister Stephen Ladyman outlined possible options for the A303 around the historic site.
The Government decided last July that a proposed bored tunnel would be too expensive after the cost had risen from £300 million to £510 million due to unexpected ground conditions.
New options under consideration include a bypass to the north of the World Heritage site, a bypass to the south, a 'cut and cover' tunnel or another bypass option called the Winterbourne Stoke bypass.
A joint venture of Balfour Beatty and Costain was awarded the Early Contractor Involvement deal in 2002 and had expected to start work in 2005, with the tunnel being completed in 2008.
But a source said: 'Even if the minister chooses to go for the cut and cover tunnel, which is the option needing the least preparatory work, the project would not get started until the financial year 2009-10.
'If any of the other options are chosen, work could not get started until 12 months later.
'It's inconceivable that nothing will happen there and it is simply unfortunate that the bored tunnel proved too expensive. It's now a matter of what and when.'
Mr Ladyman said: 'The Government is committed to improving the A303 past the World Heritage site at Stonehenge.
'I am keen to take account of as many views of possible before deciding on an option that will be in keeping with the special requirements of the location as well as being affordable, realistic and deliverable.' The public consultation will run from 23 January until 24 April. Reports on each option will then be drawn up over the summer and reviewed, with an announcement of the recommended solution expected in the autumn. The chosen option is then expected to be the subject of another public inquiry.