SCHOOL children on bicycles were met with loud applause today as they became the first to cross Blackburn’s new £12million bridge.

The landmark Wainwright Bridge, named after a vote by Lancashire Telegraph readers, has been taking shape on the town’s skyline for months. Soon after yesterday’s opening ceremony, barriers were removed and cars began to use the new link between Bolton Road and Montague Street — which council bosses say will ease traffic jams and change the town’s landscape forever.

Pedestrians and more cyclists followed, and traffic across the dual carriageway began to flow smoothly.

Preparing to cut the ribbon to formally open the bridge, Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “It’s a great day, not just for the regeneration of the town but for the whole of East Lancashire.

“It’s a fantastic example of what Blackburn can produce.”

The bridge was named after Blackburn fell walking legend Alfred Wainwright.

Mayor Mohammed Khan said: “He was a famous person who was born and raised in this town and it is a proud day.

“This will be a landmark for Blackburn for years to come.”

Coun Khan paid tribute to the team of engineers and architects that worked on the Sydney Harbour-style bridge.

Youngsters from St Anne’s RC Primary School, in nearby in Fielden Lane, were the first to try the bridge out.

And Coun Alan Cottam, executive member for regeneration, said it would open up the town to new investment and improve transport links.

He added: “Many years ago, when we closed Church Street, I was the lone voice that said we should wait until we had an alternative. Now we have that alternative.”

The bridge will eventually link up with the £4million final stage of the town's orbital route, which is expected to be completed in 2009.

Chief engineer Faris Samin, of Capita Symonds, said the project had been hit by some setbacks - notably bad weather - since building work began in September.

He added: “Projects like this don’t tend to go smoothly, and we had a period of high winds which caused problems.

“But this is the culmination of four to five years’ work and we have worked very hard to get here.”