Maintaining our public transit systems, roads, and bridges is about so much more than reducing traffic and preventing damage from potholes. A first-class transportation system, including a commuter rail that is fast, reliable, and affordable, is essential to promoting economic prosperity, increasing social mobility, and reducing Massachusetts’ carbon footprint.

Merrimack Valley residents live in close proximity to a wide variety of employment and educational opportunities, but without adequate transportation options, they can’t take advantage of them. A student passes on the chance to take an internship in Boston, because frequent commuter rail cancellations make it impractical. A single mother has to refuse a better job, because she can’t find a way to get to it. Those kinds of missed opportunities have significant costs for families and for our economy.

I supported two recent bills that will provide financial assistance to cities and towns for infrastructure projects. One authorized $200 million to support road construction projects, and the other authorized $50 million for a new program that helps municipalities construct or rehabilitate small bridges. Both bills will provide help to cash-strapped local governments, but we need to do much more to tackle the commonwealth’s infrastructure deficiencies.

District transportation priorities

In 2014, I helped the city secure $15 million from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to make essential improvements to the Lord Overpass. The project will modernize the area’s traffic configuration to better connect the Hamilton Canal District to The Acre, the Highlands, and Gallagher Terminal. Not only will the project make the city friendlier to drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians, but it will also ensure that the benefits of downtown economic development spill over into nearby neighborhoods.

I’m also focused on finding funding to replace the Rourke Bridge, a long-overdue infrastructure project that will greatly benefit Lowell and its surrounding communities. The bridge was built more than three decades ago as a temporary span, and it has plagued local commuters ever since. Replacing the bridge will address a number of public safety concerns, and it will also ease congestion. That’s important, because a smoother flow of traffic into and out of downtown will increase economic activity and make the city more attractive to new businesses.

A number of broader transportation projects are under consideration in Massachusetts. One of them is the North-South Rail Link, which would connect North and South stations, fully integrating our commuter rail and subway systems and easing capacity issues at both stations. The rail link would allow someone to board a train in Lowell and commute to the South Shore without the hassle of multiple subway transfers in Boston. It would also fully connect Massachusetts to the Northeast Corridor, allowing for quick and efficient travel throughout New England and beyond. It’s an idea worth exploring further.

Transportation and the environment

The transportation sector is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in Massachusetts, accounting for roughly 40 percent of our emissions each year. And while we’ve significantly reduced the emissions that come from producing electricity, we’ve hardly made a dent in transportation emissions. That’s our next big challenge in the fight against climate change.

Electrifying vehicles is the most effective way to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. I’ve sponsored bills that encourage the adoption of zero-emissions and hybrid vehicles, making them more affordable to buy and more convenient to use. We should also persist in efforts to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels through a partnership with other states in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic.