and Doug Oakley

and Doug Oakley

OAKLAND, Calif. — Tuesday's commute across the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge gave drivers and bicyclists alike their first close up encounter with the span's signature 525-foot tower and new vistas of the bay.

"It was awesome," said Twitter employee Dan Sullivan, 36, 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."

The span opened ahead of schedule at 10:15 p.m. PDT Monday, marking the end of 11 years of construction.

Tuesday morning's commute traffic was not unusual and there were no reports of accidents on the bridge, California Highway Patrol Officer Sam Morgan said.

A pedestrian and bicycle path on the new span opened to the public at noon Tuesday, with the entrance located in Emeryville.

The pathway has two lanes for bicyclists and one lane for pedestrians. For now, views for those headed west are obstructed by the old span of the bridge on the left and the new span on the right. Demolition of the old span of the bridge is underway.

On Tuesday, a bicycle trip to the end of the path took 53-year-old Cyndi Baird of Albany about 30 minutes.

"The ride was nice 'cause you don't have to deal with traffic," Baird said. "I think it's amazing and truly magnificent structure and I was glad to get up here today and make history."

The early opening Monday night drew lines of cars along West Grand Avenue in Oakland, starting at 5:30 p.m. Some waited hours to be among the first to cross the new span.

Yolanda Cazessus-Galarce of Alameda waited five hours Monday evening to drive across the bridge with her mother, 13-year-old son and 16-year-old nephew. A daily commuter to her job in San Francisco for "many, many years," Cazessus-Galarce said it was sad to see the old bridge dark and she felt bad when part of it collapsed in the 1989 earthquake. But it was nice to see the new bridge too.

"It was beautiful and surreal seeing the old Bay Bridge," she said. "I had many stalls on the old Bay Bridge. It was the end of an era. But getting on the new one and coming around the curve and seeing those suspension wires was amazing. They did a nice job. My son videotaped everything."

Surj Gish, 40, of Oakland, who commutes daily on his motorcycle to his job in San Francisco, rode across the bridge Monday night.

"It was more beautiful than I expected," Gish said. "You go around a curve and then there's this cathedral of cables going up, it's really breathtaking at night. It's really tall and open, kind of soaring like the inside of a cathedral. It has that kind of feel to it."

The 2.2-mile replacement span, which cost $6.4 billion, is the most expensive public works project in state history.

"The s-curve is gone, so basically you come off the span and you come straight into the tunnel," said Sullivan, of his first crossing on Tuesday morning. "It kind of feels like a new tunnel, but it's not. They kind of dressed it up a little bit."