OAKLAND, Calif. – After a 24-year wait for a new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, the first commute day on the San Francisco Bay Area’s freshest landmark was rather anticlimactic.
Sure, there were the expected traffic backups Tuesday – exacerbated by thousands of bridge-gazers who just couldn’t wait to cruise under the big white cables – but nothing too crazy.
“It was pretty much a normal day,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Ron Simmons.
The exception was the midday period, when bridge traffic usually lightens up. Instead, it still looked like rush hour close to lunchtime, possibly because locals figured it would be a better time to soak in the new drive – and because of people strolling in late to work because of the long holiday weekend, the CHP said.
Plenty of motorists posted photos and videos to the Web, despite a stern warning from the CHP that they would not tolerate distracted driving.
“It was awesome,” said Twitter employee Dan Sullivan, a 36-year-old Oakland resident who drove across the new span for the first time Tuesday. “It was a very good experience actually – a very open feeling. You hardly notice the old bridge at all.”
At least one man couldn’t quite let go of the old bridge. He navigated through a restricted access area meant for construction crews on Yerba Buena Island and got onto the structure, which will sit next to the new span until workers demolish it. The driver, who took photos of the old bridge, was told by CHP officers to beat it.
The new, self-anchored suspension span with its single looming white tower opened Monday night, hours after a low-key inaugural chain-cutting ceremony and after years of delays and cost overruns.
It 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.
There were plenty of firsts for the $6.4 billion span Tuesday. The first ticket: The CHP fined a motorcyclist going 70 mph, 20 mph over the posted speed limit. The first arrest: A woman going east was pulled over near the toll plaza and booked on suspicion of DUI at 2:15 a.m., just four hours after traffic began flowing on the bridge. And the first crash: A three-car collision at 11 a.m. sent one person to the hospital with minor injuries.