History and breakfast — that’s 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 “see history in the making.”
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.
“My bet’s on the motorcyclist; he’s got his game face on,” 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.
“We’ve been planning this for weeks; we won’t settle for second,” 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 he’s ever seen and called it a “design and build,” where workers designed and built the bridge at the same time.
“Some designs would sit in the drawer for years,” Heinrich said, “I’m excited to see [the bridge] go up so quickly.”
Heinrich said he has been on other bridge walks for previous bridge openings with Mn/DOT, and described the experience as “like a party.”
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 vehicles’ drive as a “procession across the bridge.”
“They have to be safe; they’re not going to drop and go 50 [miles per hour],” 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.
“I’ve been stuck in all kinds of traffic since it went down,” Hughes said.
Both women said their commute to the West Bank office building where they work was significantly affected while the bridge was closed.
“My bus route changed and it added 45 minutes to an hour, and I had to walk farther,” Willard said.
“Everyone in the office is excited,” Hughes said.
“It’s nice to close this chapter out and see the bridge open,” Thies said. “It’s a psychological linking of the north and south together.”
“It was really cool,” 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.
“Sweet, sweet revenge,” Leyderman said.