PORTLAND — McAllister Towing and Transportation, which owns Portland Tugboat, was selected to design a new vessel that would provide cargo service between Portland and New York within the next two years.

The design contract for the vessel, known as an articulated tug-barge, was funded by a $150,000 federal grant.

The announcement was made by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Wednesday.

“The design of this vessel is the key to bringing increased domestic cargo service to Maine,” Pingree said. “This type of vessel will suit the needs of shippers in Maine and New York. It could cost between one-third and one-half what a more traditional container ship would cost and use fewer crew, thus reducing capital and operational costs.”

The return of a cargo barge to Portland comes amid other improvements at the port. Earlier this year, Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping company, decided to move its U.S. operations to Portland from Norfolk, Va., to cut its shipping time to Northern Europe.

Barge service has been absent from Portland since 2009. The last barge service was a different type of operation known as tug-and-tow, and it transported wood pulp to New York.

Some articulated tug-barges already exist and are used in the petroleum industry for moving oil and gas. They are designed to be more stable in high seas than conventional tug-and-tow barges.

The hybrid tug-barge could be operated by a crew of six, rather than the 15 to 20 needed to operate a container ship. The vessel could cost $20 million to $50 million to build, less than the $70 million to $125 million for a traditional container ship.

The new tug-barge service has been in development since 2010. McAllister was one of two companies that submitted proposals for the contract. The other company was Foss Marine Holdings of Seattle.

The Maine Port Authority has partnered with McAllister to design the new vessel and initial design work is expected to be completed by fall.

Pingree’s husband, S. Donald Sussman, is the majority share owner of MaineToday Media Inc., which publishes the Portland Press Herald.

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at jhall@pressherald.com