The low water period beginning in September 1910 saw the completion of 29 piers and 3 abutments, all built on what were then exposed rock islands. The piers were built of concrete capped with granite bearing blocks by Porter Brothers Construction Company of Portland.
Erection of the steel superstructure began May 11, 1911. Eight through trusses including a swing span and plate girder approach spans were fabricated by the Pennsylvania Steel Company and erected by the Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Company. The approach splits into a “Y” with a 952 foot east leg and an 849 foot west leg joining it to the tracks of the SP&S. The distance from the junction of the legs to the Oregon shore is 2396 feet, giving the crossing a total length of 4197 feet. After crossing the Columbia, the bridge concluded by passing over the excavation for the Celilo Canal, the state portage railroad and the mainline of the Oregon Washington Railroad & Navigation Company.
A special train carrying Oregon Trunk Railway President Carl Gray and his honored guests arrived at the $1,000,000 bridge on January 7, 1912. Gray and Mrs. Harps, wife of the engineer in charge of construction, stepped to the rear platform of the president’s car. Mrs. Harps broke a bottle of wine on the trusswork and announced, “With this token I christen this bridge Celilo and pray happiness and prosperity may be the chief fruits of its existence.” Her words were barely audible above the fierce gale blowing through the gorge that day and no further speech making or ceremony proceeded the return of the train to Portland.
The Dalles Dam was completed in 1957 and the waters backed up by it radically altered the character of the Columbia in the vicinity of the great railway bridge. The roaring waters of the thunderous cataract were silenced. The bridge which originally stood 50 feet above the river’s high water mark now saw the waters of Lake Celilo lapping just a few feet below its deck. A vertical lift span replaced the swing span at this time, the sole alteration to Ralph Modjeski’s original design.