Hundreds gather for bridge opening

Fire trucks, emergency response vehicles, and police cars cross the Interstate 35W bridge as others follow close behind Thursday morning. The new bridge was complete and open to traffic only 13 months after the original bridge collapsed.

Matt Mead

Fire trucks, emergency response vehicles, and police cars cross the Interstate 35W bridge as others follow close behind Thursday morning. The new bridge was complete and open to traffic only 13 months after the original bridge collapsed.

History and breakfast âÄî thatâÄôs how they like their morning. At 5:04 a.m., after horns were honked and American flags were waved, the Interstate 35W bridge opened to traffic only 13 months after the original bridge collapsed. But for hours before that, hundreds of people gathered to be the first to experience the opening. Justine Savor , Maggie Kern and Mariya Leyderman , all friends and sophomores at the University, sat outside one block from their house early Thursday morning to âÄúsee history in the making.âÄù The girls arrived at their spot in their pajamas with blankets at 4:30 a.m. to watch the opening of the I-35W bridge. As they waited, the friends talked and placed bets on which vehicle would be the first down the University Avenue on-ramp to the bridge. âÄúMy betâÄôs on the motorcyclist; heâÄôs got his game face on,âÄù Leyderman, a psychology major, said. Besides the eager motorcyclists, many people from Minneapolis and surrounding areas got up early to be some of the first to cross the bridge. Junior Abbey McNabb , sophomore Sydney Davis and sophomore Charlotte Hibbs were sitting in their car, among those competing for the title of first across the bridge. âÄúWeâÄôve been planning this for weeks; we wonâÄôt settle for second,âÄù Davis, a nursing major, said. They said they hoped for a green light, as they waited across University Avenue to get onto the ramp. Despite their best efforts, Don Heinrich of New Brighton got to drive the first car onto the University Avenue on-ramp to the bridge. Heinrich, a 1961 University engineering graduate, is now a retired Mn/DOT employee who spent some time designing bridges. Heinrich said the completion of the I-35W bridge was one of the quickest heâÄôs ever seen and called it a âÄúdesign and build,âÄù where workers designed and built the bridge at the same time. âÄúSome designs would sit in the drawer for years,âÄù Heinrich said, âÄúIâÄôm excited to see [the bridge] go up so quickly.âÄù Heinrich said he has been on other bridge walks for previous bridge openings with Mn/DOT, and described the experience as âÄúlike a party.âÄù Although the lines of cars were long, the first vehicles across the bridge were fire trucks, emergency response vehicles, and police cars. Mn/DOT Safety Officer Doug Thies described the emergency vehiclesâÄô drive as a âÄúprocession across the bridge.âÄù âÄúThey have to be safe; theyâÄôre not going to drop and go 50 [miles per hour],âÄù Thies said. After the police cars were across the bridge, Mn/DOT vehicles that had been blocking traffic opened the lanes and cars were able to cross, to the delight of many. Ginger Hughes and Janelle Willard , both University employees from Circle Pines, Minn., were excited for the bridge opening. âÄúIâÄôve been stuck in all kinds of traffic since it went down,âÄù Hughes said. Both women said their commute to the West Bank office building where they work was significantly affected while the bridge was closed. âÄúMy bus route changed and it added 45 minutes to an hour, and I had to walk farther,âÄù Willard said. âÄúEveryone in the office is excited,âÄù Hughes said. âÄúItâÄôs nice to close this chapter out and see the bridge open,âÄù Thies said. âÄúItâÄôs a psychological linking of the north and south together.âÄù âÄúIt was really cool,âÄù Kern said after watching the opening. As for the motorcyclist, Savor, Kern and Leyderman saw him loop around and come back through for a second ride across. âÄúSweet, sweet revenge,âÄù Leyderman said.