With honks and blinking headlights, crosstown traffic returned to the repaired high-level West Seattle Bridge this weekend, as city officials urged commuters to slow down Monday, during the span’s first commute in 2 ½ years.

Drivers took advantage of light volumes Sunday to go the speed limit and zip between the peninsula and Interstate 5 in four minutes, a novelty after detouring 30 to 60 minutes through Duwamish River valley interchanges or neighborhoods.

“It was incredible. It felt like freedom, it was emotional,” said Janelle Bracken, who made a round trip Saturday night, then joined a group of people who waved from the walk-bike overpass crossing Fauntleroy Way Southwest, more typically a place for sign-hoisting politicians to greet bridge traffic. Others on the walk bridge said they’re looking forward to a less stressful and more predictable commute.

King County Metro Transit buses that traveled the lower swing bridge, sometimes delayed by ship openings and congested intersections, will return to their red bus lane on the high-rise bridge Monday morning.

Sunday morning, a caravan of trucks from O’Neill Plumbing, a West Seattle business formed in 1917, traveled back-and-forth through the bridge corridor at low speed, honking horns and flying balloons from side-view mirror frames. A countdown calendar titled “Ready, Set, Go …” has been displayed on the sidewalk at the company’s office.

Mustard-colored placards, fastened near bus stops by the Transit Riders Union “transit fairy” Pauline Van Senus, offered greetings like “Welcome Back Transit Riders,” while a Delridge neighborhood entrance sign proclaimed “The Bridge Is Back.”

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At the Pecos Pit BBQ, next to the Fauntleroy Way bridge-approach lanes, a surge of mostly drive-thru customers ordered 30 more lunches than usual, said shift lead Holly Holcomb. “We’re excited to have the customers come through,” she said. Like many others, the restaurant served a loyal West Seattle clientele who stayed home more during the bridge repairs, but she’s hoping the former customers return from other parts of town.

The Seattle Department of Transportation made no predictions about traffic this fall, except to assure the public the bridge is stronger than ever, said Heather Marx, Reconnect West Seattle program director. Passengers flashed shaka signs, horns and friendly hand waves toward Marx and reporters gathered at the Fauntleroy Way entrance.

“My number one piece of advice for everybody who is traveling on city streets is slow down. Slow down,” Marx said. “If that means you have to leave a little earlier, please do. People die on the streets when drivers drive too fast.” Speed limits are 45 mph on the bridge, 40 mph on the main approach lanes, and 25 mph for connecting roads. Statewide, at least 438 people have died in traffic so far this year.

Twice in seven weekend bridge trips, a reporter was passed by drivers who accelerated to 70 mph or more, and a few who were confused made sudden lane changes near exits. SDOT is not allowed by state law to put speed-enforcement cameras on the bridge, but Marx said travelers should expect occasional traffic-police patrols, as before.

SDOT removed the barricades at most entrances by 9:15 p.m. Saturday, a few hours before the announced Sunday reopening.

Marx publicly thanked 100 city and contract workers who reopened multiple traffic entrances, which she called a tightly choreographed operation. A group bicycled on the bridge earlier, causing some delay, she said.

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No crashes had been reported as of 1:30 p.m. Sunday, but one car was stalled by a flat tire late Saturday.

It will take about a week to remove all detour signs and temporary lane markings in several neighborhoods, Marx said. Crews might also make additional signage changes along the bridge route.

The bridge to West Seattle is the busiest city-owned span, carrying about 100,000 vehicles and nearly 20,000 transit riders before the pandemic and shutdown.

The route contains new signs, so reflective that car headlights are enough to keep them lit, to help drivers navigate toward the Vashon Island and Southworth ferries. There are also small brown signs that show exits for the Duwamish Tribe longhouse.

For some West Seattleites, the easier reconnection with the rest of the city put them in a mood to party like it’s 1984. That’s the year the bridge opened, giving the peninsula its first-ever grade-separated transportation mainline — unfettered by railroad tracks and the vagaries of ship traffic — after decades of reliance on ferries, streetcar trestles and drawbridges. That July, the West Seattle Herald weekly newspaper printed an unprecedented 104-page special section, “Bridging the Gap.”

The neighborhood underwent predicted growth in traffic and home values, which made that grand traffic opening a more transformative event than the 2022 reopening, West Seattle historian Clay Eals said last week.

SDOT closed the bridge March 23, 2020, because cracks discovered seven years earlier were beginning to accelerate at a dangerous pace, in four areas within the 150-foot-high central main span. Stabilization and strengthening work, at a cost of up to $78 million, is expected to keep the concrete structure aloft until about 2060. Crews added more than 50 miles of steel cables and tons of carbon fiber wrap to protect the hollow concrete girders.