Drivers heading south on Interstate 85 from the Triad toward Salisbury can now use a new bridge over the Yadkin River.
In recent months, motorists driving south into Rowan County have been using part of the nearly year-old I-85 North bridge over the Yadkin.
But late Friday and early Saturday, crews began shifting traffic onto the new southbound bridge. All four of the south lanes were expected to be open to drivers by 6 a.m. Saturday, according to the state Department of Transportation.
The I-85 northbound bridge still has to undergo some striping work, so people heading toward the Triad won’t be able to use the entire bridge right away.
The full north bridge should open in mid-April, according to a DOT spokeswoman.
Still, officials cheered the opening of the southbound bridge as a major milestone.
The old Yadkin River bridge connecting Rowan and Davidson counties was built in 1955, and had long been a trouble spot for drivers.
It had just two narrow lanes in each direction and no area for drivers to pull over if there was a wreck.
The new Yadkin River Veterans Memorial Bridge has four lanes in each direction, and 12-foot shoulders for emergencies.
“We’re proud to bring the citizens of this region what they’ve wanted for many years – a modern bridge that can easily accommodate the 60,000 vehicles that travel through the area each day,” said state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata.
The new Yadkin bridge is part of a $201.5 million construction project in the area, which also includes reworking the I-85/N.C. 150 interchange.
The state opened the northern bridge over the Yadkin last May.
Since then, emergency crews have reported seeing fewer wrecks in the area, said Dara Demi, a spokeswoman for the NCDOT.
She said statistics showed the old bridge had an accident rate that was 77 percent higher than the average crash rate for comparable roadways.
Transportation officials say the opening of the new bridge could make it easier for trucking companies and other businesses to move through the area.
The owner of a Charlotte trucking company has said a steep curve near the entrance of the old bridge helped make that portion of the interstate part the most treacherous part of the drive between Charlotte and Greensboro.
Meanwhile, state crews are working to demolish the old Yadkin Bridge. That work should be completed in April.