Croatia on Tuesday officially opened the Peljesac Bridge, connecting two parts of the country's Adriatic coast divided by Bosnian territory.
Pedestrians showed up early to walk the bridge before it was scheduled to be turned over to vehicular traffic later in the evening.
The 2.4-kilometer-long (1.5 mile) cable-stayed bridge was built at a cost of €526 million ($533 million), and its opening was billed "a historic moment" on HRT state television.
Tuesday evening's official opening ceremony will feature a speech by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and a video message from Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
The bridge had been in the works since 2007, though construction did not start in earnest until 2017, when the European Union (EU) put up €357 million, or about 85% of the cost of the project.
In 2018, the China Road and Bridge Corporation won the international bid to construct the massive infrastructure project.
In negotiations with neighboring Bosnia, Croatian officials agreed to raise the bridge to a height of 55 meters (181 feet) so as not to impede high-tonnage vessels from entering Bosnia's lone sea port, located in the municipality of Neum.
Bridge over troubled border
The bridge was greeted by locals who have spent decades waiting at Bosnian borders to travel from one part of their country to another as a result of the dissolution of Yugoslavia — which created new international borders.
"This bridge is not a luxury, it is our necessity," said Prime Minister Plenkovic. "This is a wonderful day for Croatia."
Bosnia's access to the sea had effectively cut off some 90,000 Croatian residents in and around Dubrovnik — a walled medieval city on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites and Croatia's biggest tourist attraction.
A country of 3.8 million, Croatia boasts a dramatic coastline dotted with thousands of islands. It annually attracts millions of tourists and the additional infrastructure boost the bridge will give to travel between Dubrovnik and the rest of Croatia is highly anticipated by tourists and locals alike.
Tourism is key to Croatia's economy, one of the weakest in the EU.
For others it offers a massive business boost. Oyster farmer Mario Radibratovic, for instance, said the bridge will bring "immeasurable relief" to him.
Radibratovic, who farms oysters and mussels in the village of Mali Ston and was forced to wait long, hot hours transporting perishables, says, "We are finally becoming part of Croatia; until now we felt like second-class citizens."
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, spoke for many while standing at the bridge Tuesday: "This is big day for Croatia," he said, "Let's enjoy it."
js/wmr (AFP, AP)