The bridge was engineered by Waddell & Harrington, and the lift span uses their patented lift bridge design. The bridge was built for the Salem, Falls City and Western Railway (SFC&W), which was incorporated in 1901 as a logging railroad by Louis Gerlinger and Charles K. Spaulding. After the initial construction of a line between Dallas and Falls City in 1903, the line reached the formerly separate city of West Salem in 1909; passenger service across the Willamette to Salem was provided by ferry.Southern Pacific (SP) gained full control of the Salem, Falls City and Western in 1912, and built what was then known as the Salem, Falls City & Western Railway Bridge to connect the line to the Valley Main Line in 1913. The railway was not officially purchased by Southern Pacific until 1915, at which time the SFC&W line was listed in the SP timetable as an SP branch line. Since SP had acquired the Portland, Eugene and Eastern Railway (PE&E) about the same time, and SP had planned to use the PE&E name for an electric interurban network that was to rival the Oregon Electric Railway, the bridge is also known as the Portland, Eugene & Eastern Railroad Bridge.
The bridge has two towers that rise an additional 65 feet (20 m) above the 35-foot (10.7 m) tall structure of the bridge's trusses, a 134-foot-long (41 m) center lift span, and a total length of 722 feet (220 m), excluding the 850-foot (260 m) timber trestle on the western end. The bridge's five spans sit atop five concrete piers designed to rise 35 feet (10.7 m) above mean low water, which was intended to hold the rails 5 feet (1.5 m) above the highest possible flood waters. The lift span was designed to provide a 55-foot (16.8 m) clearance during high water conditions. The lift span has been inoperable since 1980, and sometime after 1980 the operator's house – which sat atop the lift span – was removed.
The bridge's draw span being raised. The lift mechanism has been inoperable since 1980, and the operator's house (which also housed the motors powering the lift) has been removed.
Regular service of passenger and freight trains ended in 1945. The date of the last train to cross the bridge is unknown but is believed to be in the early 1990s. The City of Salem acquired the bridge in 2003 from the Union Pacific Railroad (which absorbed Southern Pacific in 1996) for one dollar. The railroad set up a $550,000 fund for maintenance. A $3.2 million renovation and conversion project transformed it into a bicycle and pedestrian bridge linking Riverfront Park and downtown Salem on the east with Wallace Marine Park and West Salem on the west. The bridge reopened on May 15, 2010.