spokeswoman

Golden Gate Bridge Reopens Six Hours Early

Traffic flowed again Monday on the Golden Gate Bridge after a weekend closure to install a safety barrier designed to reduce dangers of head-on crashes.

The bridge reopened at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, more than six hours ahead of schedule, said Priya Clemens, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.

Bridge officials said early Monday that traffic was moving over the bridge with no problems.

For the longest period in its nearly 80-year history, the bridge was closed early Saturday to all but pedestrians, cyclists and buses to install the barriers on the 1.7-mile-long bridge.

Previously, only yellow plastic tubes offered protection from opposing traffic.

Since 1970, there here have been 128 head-on collisions on the bridge, resulting in 16 deaths, according to Clemens.

A survivor of a 2008 head-on crash on the bridge spoke earlier Sunday from her wheelchair to help inaugurate the new barrier, made of steel-clad concrete blocks that can move across the span's six lanes to accommodate traffic demands.

Dr. Grace Dammann, who pushed for a safer median barrier since becoming paralyzed from the crash, said she decided to drive in the "suicide lane'' because she and her daughter were running late. Brian Clark, who was driving in the opposite direction, had just learned his father had terminal cancer.

"He passed out at the wheel, crossed over and hit my car,'' Dammann recalled.

She said she and Clark became friends as they urged the district to approve the $30 million barrier.

"I am so grateful,'' said Dammann, who came to the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Clark. "Brian and I thank you."

The suspension bridge opened in 1937, and previously has closed only for shorter periods, including for celebrations and work projects.

The bridge had been closed since midnight Friday night and had been scheduled to reopen at 4 a.m. Monday so construction crews could install the 11,500-foot barrier. Instead, the final unit of the metal and concrete barrier  was laid down at 5:50 p.m. Saturday, Clemens said.

During the closure, crews installed more than 3,500 individual units, each weighing 1,500 pounds that are pinned together to form a chain.

In addition to installing the metal and concrete barrier, crews modified the merge in the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 101 on the Waldo grade, from the Waldo Tunnel approaching the bridge.

Drivers will now merge right to left, instead of left to right. The speed limit has also been lowered from 55 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour.

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