Gov. Dannel P. Malloy cast the annual approval of bonding for transportation projects Friday as a $537 million booster shot for the economy that will create thousands of construction jobs and renew tired infrastructure.

“I’ve said this before, but I think it’s something that bears repeating: Many of the projects we approve at these meetings create jobs for Connecticut residents,” Malloy said.

Malloy spoke after the monthly meeting of the State Bond Commission, a final and typically perfunctory step in providing funding for projects already approved by the General Assembly and reviewed by the administration.

He sounded a theme likely to echo through his 2014 re-election campaign, though the first-term Democratic governor remained coy about his timetable for officially becoming a candidate.

“It’s in the future – and not relatively close,” Malloy said.

Malloy appears confident he can afford to wait and still easily raise the $250,000 in small-dollar donations necessary to qualify for public financing. After running in 2006 and 2010, Malloy has an extensive donor base.

Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, who also intends to seek public financing, announced his candidacy Tuesday. It is McKinney’s first attempt at statewide office.

Malloy did not directly comment on McKinney’s entrance into the race for governor, but he strongly defended his administration’s approach to economic development. McKinney criticized Malloy for offering grants and loans to major employers.

The governor said the state has provided assistance to 900 companies in his first term, compared with 119 aided in the eight years before he took office.

“The vast, vast, vast majority of those are small businesses,” Malloy said. “That was a tool box I put together. That was a program I championed.”

Malloy said he would prefer not to offer public subsidies to entice companies to move to or expand in Connecticut, but he must to compete with other governors and other states.

“I’ve been very clear throughout my political career that if all states were to absent themselves from these programs, I would join that movement overnight,” he said.

But Malloy made equally clear he is not ready to be labeled a candidate.

“I’ve got a job to do,” Malloy said, waving off questions about re-election.

On Friday, part of that job was reinforcing his administration’s message that it is aggressively maintaining and modernizing transportation infrastructure as it encourages job growth in a state that has recovered only half the jobs lost in the 2008 recession.

Special transportation bonds backed by revenue from the gasoline tax typically are approved at the July meeting of the Bond Commission, allowing the Department of Transportation to prepare bids on a long list of projects necessary to maintain the state’s highways and bridges.

“Much of the funding will be used to leverage about $600 million in federal transportation aid to update, strengthen and improve the safety of Connecticut’s highways, bridges, rail and transit systems,” Malloy said.

This year’s list of projects includes the widening of I-84 in Waterbury, providing long-sought relief for a bottleneck between exits 22 and 25A. It was added after other projects were completed under budget.

“It’s a function of good prices, good management,” said James P. Redeker, the commissioner of transportation.

Also on the list is 250 miles of repaving, including stretches of I-84 in Vernon and I-95 in Groton, the reconstruction of exits 5 and 6 on I-84 in Danbury, and the continued construction of the Q Bridge, which carries I-95 across New Haven Harbor.

The transportation funds include $143 million for bus and rail improvements, $113 million for interstate highways, $44 million for intrastate highways, $30 million for local roads and $93.8 million for work on about 40 bridges.

The combined state and federal spending will create or retain nearly 20,000 construction-related jobs, Malloy said.

Redeker said the transportation spending also has allowed the DOT to catch up on long-deferred maintenance.

“For years, the backlog of maintenance was growing,” Redeker said. “That is now diminishing.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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