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First cars cross Bay Bridge's new span

  • In this photo taken on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, provided by the Bay Area Toll Authority, a phalanx of police officers lead a procession across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to mark the east span's opening in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Bay Area Toll Authority, Noah Berger )

SAN FRANCISCO — There was little fanfare, but the gleaming white and newly built $6.4-billion eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened to the public as vehicles began crossing it after more than a decade of construction delays.

Part old and part new, part permanent and part temporary, the hybridized bridge opened late Monday night in time for Tuesday's morning commute. The opening followed a five-day closure for the entire bridge.

Drivers began lining up their cars hours earlier in an attempt to be among the first on the new span, and CHP officers led a line of vehicles across at about 10:15 p.m. several hours before the estimated opening time and the expected commuter crunch of the beginning of the work week on Tuesday.

New Bay Bridge Span

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The new span replaces a structure that was damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck as millions tuned in to watch Game 3 of the "Bay Bridge World Series" between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants. The replacement span is designed to withstand the strongest earthquake estimated by seismologists to occur at the site over a 1,500-year period.

"Despite the journey's length, it has been completed before the arrival of our next big earthquake," said Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "And thank goodness for that."

The bridge's pedestrian and bike sections were set to open later Tuesday.

At a modest inaugural ceremony, the new, self-anchored suspension bridge with its looming, single white tower was praised as a dramatic safety upgrade over its predecessor. It also was held up as a beautiful example of public art.

"I hope this is more than just connecting two land masses," said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. "I hope that the progress that's being represented at this moment is for a generation to dream big dreams and to do big things."

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