SAN FRANCISCO — Commuters faced their first morning on Thursday without the workhouse San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, but there weren't major traffic snarls as day broke across the Bay Area.
Alternate bridges to get into San Francisco were more crowded around 6:30 a.m., and Bay Area Rapid Transit trains appeared to be carrying a heavier load than usual. But commuters were managing to get around.
The bridge closed on Wednesday night, as preparations got under way to open the new $6.4 billion eastern span. After a long line of evening commuters took one last trip across San Francisco Bay, traffic slowed to a trickle and then the Depression-era bridge shut down as scheduled at about 8 p.m.
Although several drivers hung back in hopes of being the last car to cross the span, that honor went to a yellow Model A Ford driven by Bob Faber of Richmond, according to the Oakland Tribune.
The new crossing is expected to open late Monday or early Tuesday, but the exact timing is still being worked out, bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon said.
The closure was expected to have region-wide effects on traffic; the Bay Bridge is used by about 280,000 vehicles each day. This weekend's closure is the fourth time in seven years that officials have shut the bridge down over the Labor Day weekend, when traffic is significantly lighter.
It's been nearly 24 years since the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake permanently damaged the existing eastern span, setting off a public works project marked by numerous delays, political fights over its design and complex engineering hurdles.
Transportation officials urged people to plan ahead for the closure. BART trains will run 24 hours starting Wednesday night, and bus and ferry service will also be bolstered to help people move around.
"Be patient, wherever you're going," said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "We saw this same thing during the bridge closures in 2007 and 2009. The Bay Area keeps moving. It just becomes more sluggish."
Crews aiming to create a level path to and from the new span will be demolishing the old approach to the bridge and grinding down the old pavement in preparation for laying down fresh asphalt, Gordon said. They will also stripe lanes and add railings and other final details before the bridge reopens.
Still, many details of the new bridge's opening are still up in the air, including who will be there to cut the chain in the official opening ceremony, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who was intimately involved in the bridge's planning as mayor of Oakland, decided to skip the ceremony to instead be with his wife at a family gathering in Michigan.
When the new bridge does open, CHP cruisers will lead the first traffic over the span to help moderate speed, Officer Daniel Hill said.
People planning trips throughout the region over the Labor Day weekend should check 511.org for alternative routes and transportation methods, officials said.