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.
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."
Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, cut a chain with a blow torch to mark the opening after leading those gathered around the bridge's toll plaza in a countdown to the reopening.
Plans initially called for a public celebration with fireworks, a concert, a half-marathon and more than 100,000 pedestrians crossing the bridge.
Instead, after years of delays and cost overruns, the opening of one of the state's most expensive public works projects was marked with a relatively low-key event that did not even include the governor.
"The project inspired me, challenged me, frustrated me and today, after seeing the final product, it impresses me with its beauty, its grace and its strength," said Brian Kelly, who heads the state's transportation agency.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who was closely involved in planning the bridge when he was mayor of Oakland, was out of town and unable to attend the ceremony, said his spokesman, Evan Westrup.
The entire bridge closed Wednesday night so crews could do final work, and they were still striping, putting up signs and putting down roadway markers Monday, said bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon. Some barrier railing also needed to be installed.
The new section of bridge has been under construction for almost a decade and follows years of political bickering, engineering challenges and cost overruns.