RICHMOND -- The growing south shore is divided from the city no more.

Officials and residents gathered to officially open the Meade Street Bypass Road Project on Thursday, marking a key step toward turning the Marina Bay and south shoreline district from a well-kept secret to a bustling hub of tourism, residential and commercial development.

"This is a key step toward the emerging land use vision for the southern shoreline," City Manager Bill Lindsay said.

The project was completed at a total cost of about $1.5 million by the successor agency to the former Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency. The new three-way interchange bypasses railroad tracks leading to the Richmond Port, and links Interstate 580 to Marina Bay residential areas, the Richmond Police Department and a growing body of commercial development, including the proposed site of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a future ferry service linking Richmond to San Francisco.

Construction on the project by W.R. Ford cost just under $1 million and began in May, said Craig Murray, the city's development project manager.

"This is a first," Murray said. "We now have 24-7 access to Marina Bay."

Access to the waterfront had been a growing concern in recent years, as development grew on the waterfront sites of Richmond's former World War II shipyards. Richmond's Police Department is located on the shore, and during emergencies cruisers are sometimes trapped behind trains that take as long as 30 minutes to pass, owing to the steep curves in the rails cutting through the area.

The new bypass increases routes in and out of Marina Bay from two to three, and for the first time eludes the lengthy trains, while linking the south shore to the 23rd Street business corridor.

It will also serve a key function when Marina Bay Parkway is closed, possibly next year, for several months during a $30 million underpass project construction.

The Meade project consists of a 700-foot-long, two-lane bypass road, 35 feet wide with 5-foot bicycle lanes on each side.

Crews moved 10,000 cubic yards of soil, according to a city report, and included a 300-foot-by-26-foot bioswale alongside the road to filter runoff into the Bay.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin praised residents who have prodded the city to construct a bypass road for years.

"The genesis of this is the residents of Marina Bay who insisted that emergency vehicles have clearer access," McLaughlin said.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers