Finally Monday, the Bay Area got its bridge.
The $6.4 billion eastern span of the Bay Bridge, which took 11½ years to complete and features the world's largest self-anchored suspension span as well as a bike and pedestrian path, officially opened for business Monday night at 10:18 p.m.
And though officials seemed to agree 24 years was far too long to wait for a replacement for the span that collapsed during 1989's Loma Prieta earthquake, all were happy that the race against the next massive earthquake had been won.
"At long last, welcome to the opening," announced emcee Steve Heminger at the ceremonial chain-cutting several hours before the bridge opened to the public. "That's an applause line."
The laughs, claps and cheers prompted by Heminger, executive director of the Bay Area Toll Authority and chairman of the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, were echoed by more than a dozen other elected officials speaking at the opening event, which was attended by about a thousand dignitaries.
"We have overcome what at times seemed insurmountable," said CEO Michael Flowers of American Bridge Company, the lead contractor on the project, at the opening event at the Bridge Yard building, formerly a Caltrans warehouse. "The finish line is in sight."
The new structure replaces an original span that cost $77 million and was built with the world's deepest marine foundation in just 3½ years. Both were built during tough economic times: the Great Depression and the Great Recession.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom called the new bridge a beautiful display of ongoing human ingenuity and a reinvestment in sustainability.
"Bridges are monuments to progress, and as I stand here between Mayor Ed Lee and Mayor Jean Quan I hope this is more than just connecting two land masses," he said right before cutting the chain with a blow torch. "I hope that the progress that's being represented at this moment is for a generation to dream big dreams and do big things."
The long-anticipated opening Labor Day weekend was almost delayed until the end of the year before the Federal Highway Administration approved a temporary fix for some broken bolts that were built into the new span.
But the faulty bolts were just one of many construction, political and administrative complications that haunted the new span, whose aesthetics authorities complimented.
"It shouldn't have taken 24 years," said California Transportation Commission Chairman James Ghielmetti. "California must do a better job moving forward on all our public works projects."
Still, on Monday the spirit of victory overshadowed the difficulties of the past.
"It's nothing short in my mind of an engineering marvel," Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said with pride. "We built the bridge to outlast every one of us here. That is why we're here, opening it this weekend for seismic safety."