Metro officials yesterday proposed a controversial shift in plans for building a long-delayed section of the Green Line through Northwest and Northeast Washington in a move to reduce construction costs.

The proposal, expected to be considered next month by Metro's board of directors, includes a 2,600-foot tunnel beneath historic Rock Creek Cemetery. The cemetery's board of governors has opposed similar plans, and a lawyer for the board said the new move might be challenged in court.

At issue is a long-debated section of the Green Line connecting a proposed Columbia Heights station at 14th and Irving streets NW with the Fort Totten stop in Northeast. Plans for the route have been opposed by community residents since the early 1970s, and no funds have been set aside for the project.

An earlier Metro proposal included a 500-foot tunnel beneath the cemetery, which is at Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Street NW. Officials said yesterday that they had modified their proposal to save $10.7 million in construction costs, reduce neighborhood disruption and improve rail operations.

Ernest F. Henry, the cemetery board's lawyer, objected to the new proposal, saying it appeared to require tunnel excavation directly beneath grave sites. Under the earlier plan, the subway route would have extended beneath an unused part of the cemetery.

"We have opposed, generally, going under the cemetery," Henry said. He added that the new plan appeared to increase prospects of a court challenge because the proposed route would encroach on a "historical area." St. Paul's Episcopal Church, which overlooks the 18th century cemetery, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The $444 million Metro proposal also is expected to face vehement opposition from community residents because tunnels would be excavated beneath New Hampshire Avenue NW. At a hearing last year, neighborhood leaders denounced similar plans, saying they would cause disruption in Petworth and other moderate-income communities.

"Nothing has changed at all. We are still opposed to it," Benjamin L. Spaulding, a longtime neighborhood activist, said yesterday. "We are opposed to the use of New Hampshire Avenue."