With speeches, parades and a blowtorch to cut an iron ribbon, the nation's first major suspension bridge since 1973 opened Saturday, a 3,400-foot span across the Carquinez Strait north of Berkeley.
During an afternoon event that attracted thousands to this blue-collar town, Gov. Gray Davis helped ironworkers dedicate the structure by slicing through a ceremonial chain with a blast of fire.
"What a magnificent bridge you folks have put together," he said.
State officials held the ceremony a week earlier than originally scheduled to give the honor to Davis, who presided over its construction and leaves office Nov. 17.
The $400-million Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge is named for a local ironworker who fell from the Golden Gate Bridge during its 1936 construction and survived to build six more bridges in the Bay Area. The new three-lane structure is 410 feet high, rests on two massive piers and is designed to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 8.0.
Zampa died at 95, weeks after turning the first shovel of dirt for the structure, the longest suspension bridge to open in the United States since the newer span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis, Md. More than two dozen of Zampa's iron-working relatives attended, including his son Dick Sr. and grandson Dick Jr., 47. The grandson sliced the thick iron chain with an oxy-acetylene torch.
Angelina Zampa, 17, lighted the torch. Zampa Jr. called it an honor for the family and "all labor" to name the bridge for an ironworker.
"When was the last time they opened a suspension bridge in California? It was the Golden Gate. My mom was there when they opened that," said Pat Karinen, 49, a "pile driver" who helped prepare the Crockett side of the straits for the bridge approach when it was "all mud."
The event had the feel of a pep rally for Davis, surrounded by union workers who have supported him politically over the years.
"As this bridge becomes part of California's future, governor, this is also a piece of your legacy," said Jeff Morales, director of the California Department of Transportation.
The Zampa replaces a seismically risky 1927 bridge, a cantilevered steel structure that carries Interstate 80 traffic north across the strait. The interstate is an east-west route but at Vallejo runs north and south. It is increasingly crowded with commuters driving to and from new suburbs between the Bay Area and Sacramento.
The 1927 span, which will soon be dismantled, opened the same day Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris, finishing the world's first solo airplane flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The twin to the 1927 bridge, built in 1958, will continue to carry southbound traffic.
A 12-foot-wide pedestrian walkway connecting the new bridge to the 444-mile Bay Trail, a project designed to create an unbroken path around the bay, also opened Saturday. The bridge begins carrying traffic today.
The new span, financed by regional bridge tolls incorporates more-pliable concrete along with steel in its towers -- a key feature in earthquake country.
The bridge has Japanese-made orthotropic steel decks, which are tapered to reduce wind resistance and made of hollow, steel-reinforced cubes. Engineers say it makes the bridge lighter and stronger, allowing it to twist in inclement weather without sacrificing the delicacy of the design.
"We completed the bridge on time without one fatality. Dad would be proud," Dick Zampa Sr. said.