COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Senate passed legislation Wednesday -- twice -- to continue an established program that provides funding for local bridge improvements.

Senators OK'd SB 6 on a unanimous vote, then approved the same provisions as an amendment to the larger transportation budget later in the same session.

Both would extend ODOT's Ohio Bridge Partnership Program through mid-2019, continuing an initiative that was established via an executive action in late 2013 but that is set to expire at the end of June.

Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction), primary sponsor of SB 6, said ODOT has invested about $138 million in the repair or replacement of 200-plus bridges through the program.

"This program has been extremely beneficial to a number of communities across the state but is set to expire ," he said.

SB 6 would codify the program, continuing funding for bridges that are at least 20 feet long, structurally deficient and currently open to traffic, according to an analysis by the state's Legislative Service Commission. ODOT uses federal funding for the projects.

SB 6 also would require ODOT to provide a report to the governor and lawmakers with recommendations for the further continuation of the program.

Gov. John Kasich vetoed similar language that was added to the last biennial transportation budget, noting at the time, "Earmarks in the state transportation budget bill unduly limit the flexibility of (ODOT) to prioritize key projects on state highways and roads that directly impact the safety and quality of life for Ohioans. Additionally, the codification of this program into permanent law is unnecessary and redundant because Ohio has existing funding sources in state law that provide revenue to local governments to fund road and bridge projects ."

The governor did instruct ODOT at the time, however, to allocate an additional $10 million for bridge projects, adding to $120 million already set aside for that purpose.

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.