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Record-breaking San Francisco Bay bridge opens after delays

The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge is illuminated in San Francisco, California September 2, 2013.
REUTERS/Stephen Lam
The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge is illuminated in San Francisco, California September 2, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The largest self-anchored suspension bridge in the world opened across San Francisco Bay late Monday night, six years behind schedule and five times over budget, police said.

The new $6 billion eastern section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, one of the busiest spans in the United States, opened in time to accommodate Tuesday's 280,000 daily commuters, San Francisco police said on Tuesday.

The San Francisco-to-Oakland bridge was shut to traffic last Wednesday to complete construction and build connections from the new eastern stretch to the existing toll plaza and the bay's Yerba Buena Island.

The single-towered, 2,047-foot-long (634-metre) self-anchored main span is more than twice the length of the previous record holders, Japan's Konohana Bridge and South Korea's Yeongjong Grand Bridge, according to the Structurae engineering database.

A self-anchored suspension bridge has its main cables fixed to its deck. A traditional suspension bridge is anchored to the ground.

The opening follows years of delays prompted by design disputes, financial struggles and safety issues. It also comes two decades after its predecessor partly collapsed in a 1989 earthquake.

In March, a survey found that 32 of more than 2,300 steel rods used to help the 2.2-mile (3.5-km) eastern span of the bridge withstand earthquakes were broken.

The cost of the retrofitting was estimated between $5 million and $10 million. Placeholder plate stabilizers are being used to keep the bridge open before the rods are permanently replaced in December.

The bridge will feature a single 525-foot (160-metre) tower and a bicycle path, points of contention when the bridge was being planned.

Once the new stretch is opened, it will take about three years to demolish the old span, bridge officials said in a statement.

The eastern section of the bridge reaches from Yerba Buena Island to Oakland. The western stretch links downtown San Francisco to the island.

The east span will include east- and westbound traffic on side-by-side decks. The west span will continue to have decks placed above and below one another.

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; editing by Andrew Hay)

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