The West Gate Tunnel Project is “an expensive strategic mistake” that the state government must immediately ditch, according to some of Australia’s leading transport and urban planning experts.

The state government’s West Gate Tunnel, a new $5.5 billion toll road for Melbourne’s western suburbs, was last week given the green light by planning minister Richard Wynne.

But respected planners based at the University of Melbourne and RMIT Centre for Urban Research have slammed the project in a new report, “West Gate Tunnel: Another Case of Tunnel Vision?”

The report includes an open letter to Victorian MPs, supported by almost 30 leading urban planners, raising concerns about the direction of transport planning in Victoria.

The letter suggests transport planning in Victoria lacks independence or a basis in proper evidence.

It also slams recent decisions to build major new road projects without considering public transport and active transport alternatives.

“Recent decisions by the State Government to pursue the North East Link and West Gate Tunnel represent a regrettable retreat from at least two decades of Metropolitan and State planning strategies which have contained strong in-principle commitments to public transport over road-based solutions,” the letter states.

The planners call for the West Gate Tunnel Project to be ditched due to its inability to meet its objectives, an overstatement of its benefits and the “opacity” of the market-led process by which the state government ditched the more modest $500 million Western Distributor proposal it took to a state election in favour of Transurban’s $5.5 billion tollroad proposal.

The report raises “deep concerns” with planning and governance for the proposed West Gate Tunnel Project, questioning “problematic traffic modelling” and misrepresentation of project benefits.

“While we acknowledge the congestion issues on the West Gate Bridge, international and local evidence overwhelmingly shows that building new or expanded roads are only ever short-term solutions,” it states.

“The purported travel time savings and reductions in congestion will not materialise because of induced demand, which attracts users to new road capacity and away from other modes, and we will very soon be stuck in traffic once more.”

The report concludes that the “only reasonable response” is to scale back to the West Gate Distributor, involving new ramps from the West Gate Freeway to enable trucks to bypass residential Yarraville roads, in tandem with truck bans on inner western suburban streets.

It argues that if the government is to proceed, it should take the project to an election – just like it demanded of the East-West Link from opposition, before tearing up the contract at a cost to taxpayers of more than $1 billion upon forming government.

The release of the report comes as the tunnel project’s 12 Community Liaison Group representatives wrote to the group’s chair to highlight “critical flaws” with the project.

Their letter says the project puts at risk the health and future of western suburbs communities along the entire alignment of the project from Brooklyn to the city.

“We do not wish to see, or be a part of, a project that fails people in its path,” they wrote.

“These flaws need to be fixed, so that the transport goals of the government, the people of

Melbourne and the western suburbs can be better achieved without damage to its people.”

The state government has been contacted for comment.