The new Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened for the first time to eastbound traffic into Tacoma this morning without major hiccups with its toll...

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The new Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened for the first time to eastbound traffic into Tacoma this morning without major hiccups with its toll system, a Washington State Department of Transportation spokeswoman said.

There were 11,000 transactions clocked during the first four hours of the bridge’s opening, spokeswoman Janet Matkin said.

“People from this area are having the best commute they’ve probably ever had,” said Matkin. “It’s been pretty smooth.”

About 75 percent of drivers were using “Good to Go” transponders since tolling began at 4:01 a.m., allowing them to pay as they drove through, instead of at the tollbooth, she said. The original goal was to have half of drivers using the high-tech devices, she said.

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A $3 round-trip toll is being collected on cars traveling east, or $1.75 for drivers using prepaid transponders, which they can purchase at customer-service centers in Tacoma and Gig Harbor. A new bike/pedestrian lane will open once construction wraps up.

The new Narrows span, at $849 million, is the longest classic suspension bridge built since New York City’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in 1964. No others are planned in the United States, although a new bridge being built across San Francisco Bay includes a suspended section, anchored by a single tower.

An estimated 60,000 people seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Sunday and walked across the bridge, soaking up what proved to be an amazing scene along the one-mile crossing.

A parade of joggers and walkers gawked at the graceful concrete towers, posed for pictures before the huge green cables, and gingerly leaned over barriers to ponder the powerful currents of Puget Sound, swirling some 180 feet below.

“We’re paying for it, so we should see it,” said Dallas Hogan, of Gig Harbor, walking across with his family of five. “You can’t do it again.”

Sunday’s celebration started with a 5-kilometer fun run, attracting more than 10,000 participants to raise money for Tacoma General Hospital’s neonatal intensive-care unit.

The crowds got so thick that Pierce Transit temporarily halted its shuttle buses coming in from Tacoma Community College. It was the transit agency that estimated a total attendance of as many as 60,000.

Many participants stopped to take pictures.

“It was really neat to have an unadulterated view of what you would see driving the bridge,” said runner Jacob Snow, of Bremerton.

After the run, visitors were separated into east and westbound lanes, to keep everyone moving.

“We’ve got exactly the perfect thing — a river of pedestrians walking back and forth,” state Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald said. Under the weight of so many people, the bridge vibrated somewhat. The amount wasn’t measured, but oscillations were perhaps 1 inch up-and-down, while the central span sagged maybe 1 foot — about the same as it will during normal rush-hour traffic, said senior structural engineer Tim Moore.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, joined by construction workers, led a formal ribbon-cutting at about 2 p.m., near the Tacoma end of the bridge.

Gregoire called it the second amazing engineering feat for Washington state this month, coming after Boeing’s rollout of its new Dreamliner passenger jet in Everett.

“These people are the finest work force to be found anywhere in the world,” she said.

However, many components came from abroad, including the bridge deck, made in South Korea.

Tacoma Narrows Constructors, a partnership of contractors Bechtel and Kiewit, finished the bridge three months later than scheduled, with no workplace deaths and only four injuries, officials said.

State Patrol Chief John Batiste said the project will prevent head-on collisions by separating traffic. On three occasions, Batiste said, he personally has had to go out and notify families about fatalities on the bridge.

Among those out for the Sunday stroll was a protester carrying an anti-toll sign. So did a person dressed as Darth Vader. A man strummed his guitar, comparing its strings to the taut wires that hold the road deck. A six-man bagpipe band, Peninsula Pipes & Drums, played while walking across.

Foot traffic flowed well except at the 2 p.m. ribbon-cutting, where the combination of peak crowds, the stage and a parked State Patrol car created a bottleneck. Some people yelled at police to keep the crowds moving.

A group called NarrowsBridgeLights.org collected signatures to support illuminating the suspension cables at night using solar-powered color lamps. The Legislature authorized $1.5 million for lighting, but that’s far short of the money needed, so the question of lighting remains unresolved, the DOT’s Moore said.

The state took some criticism for the $260,000 cost of Sunday’s party; private contributions covered more than $100,000 of the total. Most went to event consultants, bus service, police and insurance, so there were few decorations or performances.

One bridge fan told MacDonald that the state should have sprung for fireworks.

Elizabeth Rittenhouse, of Tacoma, walking with her daughter and 2-year-old granddaughter, admired the simple approach:

“I like it that it’s not commercial. We’re just here to observe the bridge, together.”

Seattle Times staff reporter Christina Siderius contributed to this report.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com