Must read: Minneapolis drivers honk approval for replacement bridge

MINNEAPOLIS - Emergency vehicles with lights flashing led twin processions to open the new Interstate 35W bridge before dawn Thursday, less than 14 months after the shocking and deadly collapse of its predecessor.

Highway department trucks followed patrol cars, fire trucks and ambulances in slow northbound and southbound parades that passed each other around the middle of the bridge just after 5 a.m. Behind them were hundreds of motorists in cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses, many of them honking their horns and a few waving American flags.

Traffic was initially heavy on what had been one of the Twin Cities' busiest arteries, but it loosened up quickly and it continued to zip along through the morning rush hour. The old bridge had three lanes in each direction, but its replacement has five.

'It was wonderful. What a beautiful bridge. It's terrific,' said Donald Brown, a retired truck driver from Golden Valley who was among the first to cross the new bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis.

The old bridge fell Aug. 1, 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others.