Drivers from Montreal’s south shore took their first trip northbound on the new Samuel de Champlain Bridge at 5 a.m., Monday.
Federal Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne was part of the first procession over the Saint Lawrence River.
“We know the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, the Golden Gate in California, I think this is going to be a signature landmark of Montreal,” he said.
READ MORE: New Samuel de Champlain Bridge to open northbound lane June 24, southbound lane July 1
The new structure spans 3.4 km long and has three lanes in each direction for cars, as well as a central deck for public transit for the future Réseau express métropolitain (REM) train.
“I honestly felt like I was part of something special and that was surreal, and most likely something that I will be able to say I scratched off my bucket list,” said Doreen Assaad, Brossard mayor.
There is also a lane dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians. The bridge’s estimated cost is $4.5 billion and was partially funded by the Canadian government.
READ MORE: Slices of Montreal immortalized as part of new Champlain Bridge
Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the new span and greeted workers who have spent the last four years building the bridge.
Exit 58 to downtown Montreal and Nuns’ Island has also been opened to traffic.
“It’s beautiful. It’s wide and the view of Montreal is amazing,” said Suzanne Bienvenu, a Nuns’ Island resident.
WATCH BELOW: New Samuel de Champlain Bridge set to open
The Samuel de Champlain Bridge will open southbound next Monday, July 1.
Until then, drivers will be able to use the old Champlain Bridge, which was inaugurated in June 1962.
Once the Samuel de Champlain Bridge opens the old Champlain Bridge will be closed to traffic permanently.
READ MORE: New structure replacing old Champlain Bridge officially named Samuel De Champlain
Over the last few years, maintenance required to keep the old span in service has cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It will be dismantled over the next three to four years.
The $4.5-billion contract was originally expected to be delivered in December 2018 by Signature sur le Saint-Laurent (SSL), the company chosen to carry out the design, construction, financing, operations, maintenance and rehabilitation of the bridge.
The official opening for the new Champlain Bridge will take place Friday, June 28.
READ MORE: Building the new Champlain Bridge: A race against time
Officials estimate that the bridge, which has an estimated life expectancy of 125 years, will accommodate about 50 million passages each year.
WATCH BELOW: Montreal’s new bridge officially named Samuel De Champlain
— with files from The Canadian Press.