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New Bay Bridge Opens Ahead of Schedule

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Bay Area commuters share their thoughts on the new Bay Bridge, which opened ahead of schedule Monday night. Jodi Hernandez reports. (Published Tuesday, Sep 3, 2013)

    Commuters who drove between Oakland and San Francisco on the Bay Bridge before the sun came up on Tuesday only had glowing things to say about the $6.4 billion engineering masterpiece, which took more than a decade to build and came in at $5 billion more than first projected.

    "It was incredible, man," Nhua Rodriguez told NBC Bay Area. "Nice, clear, no traffic. Very good, man."

    Omar Hassan also liked his ride: "I thought it was excellent. Spectacular. I was blown away."

    CHP Cites Drivers Taking Pictures, Videos on Bay Bridge

    [BAY] CHP Cites Drivers Taking Pictures, Videos on Bay Bridge
    California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Hill said officers cited "a couple" of drivers Tuesday morning for driving - and taking pictures and videos - of the stunning new Bay Bridge. Christie Smith reports. (Published Tuesday, Sep 3, 2013)

    VIDEO: Bay Bridge Construction Time Lapse

    And from the early morning tweets and Instagram photos taken - hopefully by passengers,  not drivers - other commuters were loving the wide open vistas and views. What people liked most was the "cathedral-like" effect of the clean, simple suspension bridge, compared to the cantilever beams on the old section of the bridge, which boxed drivers in like a cage.

    Bridge traffic was smooth in the early morning hours of Tuesday, though westbound Interstate 80 in Berkeley was jammed approaching the bridge.

    MORE: What People are Saying About the Bay Bridge

    By 10 a.m., though, the California Highway Patrol announced officers removed one motorist from the cantilever section of the bridge because he went around the contruction zone to try to take pictures. CHP spokesman Daniel Hill said a few others were either warned or cited for taking photos and "making iPhone videos" of the bridge while behind the wheel. Hard numbers, he said, wouldn't be out until later in the day.

    Caltrans and the CHP opened up the new eastern span of the bridge to traffic at about 10:15 p.m. Monday night - about seven hours earlier than planned. The bridge was scheduled to be reopened by 5 a.m. Tuesday but the work was finished faster than anticipated, Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said.

    On Labor Day afternoon, authorities held a chain-cutting ceremony at 3 p.m.  to officially welcome the new bridge.

    California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom cut the ceremonial chain with a blowtorch - just like they did when the bridge opened in 1936 - setting off a procession of California Highway Patrol motorcycles and other vehicles across the new bridge. Gov. Jerry Brown was noticeably absent from the pomp and circumstance. He was in Michigan with his wife for a family reunion.

    PHOTOS: Bay Bridge Opening Ceremony

    A collection of 20 cars, ranging from vintage models to modern electric vehicles were also part of the first motorcade to begin crossing the new span at about 5:40 p.m. Horns honked, drivers cheered, and the mood seemed like New Year's Eve.

    MORE: 20 Cars to Give Bay Bridge a Test Spin

    The workhorse bridge of the Bay Area has been closed since Wednesday night, so that Caltrans workers could get ready for the new  2.2-mile eastern span that took 11 years to build following the safety concerns after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The original pricetag was about $1 billion, and the road to building the bridge was full of political football and controversy, including recently when bolts on the bridge were discovered to have had problems that have since been addressed.

    But all's well that ends well.

    The construction to open the bridge went off with little to no public hitches. Caltrans had given regular media tours throughout to show the public that all was going well. Crews furiously worked to pave the roadway on east and westbound portions of the new span, installed barriers, power-washed the Treasure Island tunnels, polished lights, and demolished part of the old approach to the eastern span from Oakland.

    "We haven't encountered any problems beyond the occasional slowdown that you'd expect with any construction project," spokesman Andrew Gordon said of work taking place since the bridge closed Wednesday night.

    RAW VIDEO: Early Ridealong Tour on the Bay Bridge

    Even traffic didn't become the headache many had feared. Despite the five-day closure of the Bay Bridge, motorists made their way around in sluggish, but tolerable, commutes.

    NBC Bay Area's Kyle Bonagura, Christie Smith, Terry McSweeney, Mike Inouye and the Associated Press contributed to this report.