Officials say the current station is maxed out. They hope to build a new one using a transportation bond and a federal grant.

Portland officials want to replace the existing transportation center near Thompson’s Point with a new $28 million station that they say would spur economic development and support expanded public transit.

They just need to figure out how to pay for it.

The officials hope to convince the Legislature and the LePage administration to put money for the project in a future state transportation bond. Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, has submitted a bill at the city’s request to do just that.

The city also plans to seek a grant from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said.

The existing center, which is used by Amtrak’s Downeaster service and Concord Coach Lines, is at capacity, and the new station would be large enough to include space for Greyhound buses and additional local transit service to better connect it, downtown and the Portland International Jetport, Brennan said.

“It would be a transformative step for us in terms of coordinating the transportation system in the city,” he said.

The city is in the early stages of developing the idea, said Jeff Levine, the city’s director of planning and urban development.

The current hub on Thompson’s Point Road doesn’t have room for parking or for passengers waiting to board buses and trains, Levine said.

“It’s pretty maxed out,” he said. “It’s a great facility for a small city. But as Portland grows, we are outgrowing it.”

Getting money to build a new one won’t be easy. The Maine Department of Transportation won’t endorse Farnsworth’s bill because the department does not support putting earmarks in transportation bonds, said Ted Talbot, the department’s spokesman. He said the department is willing to consider providing a state match for a TIGER grant. A similar bill was killed last year.

INTEGRATE WITH THOMPSON’S POINT

Over the past three years, Portland officials have discussed building a larger station that would be integrated with new development at Thompson’s Point, a roughly 30-acre parcel between the Portland Transportation Center and the Fore River. The developers have two tenants now and plans for a new 125-room hotel, 180,000 square feet of new office space, an event center and parking garage. When it is built, 25 percent of the money the city will receive in additional property taxes – about $250,000 annually – will be used for transit projects.

Currently, the transportation center has two parking lots that hold about 668 cars plus a short-term lot with 30 spaces. When the lots are full, an overflow lot for about 200 cars is located on land that is part of the Thompson’s Point development tract.

The city and state could work with the developers to include parking for train and bus travelers in the new garage, which would free existing surface parking lots for development, City Councilor David Marshall said.

Chris Thompson, a principal in Forefront Partners, the development group, said a new transportation center would boost the value of the project because people want to locate their businesses near transportation hubs. He could envision enlarging a planned parking garage to make room for transit users.

“There are plenty of ways we can help partner and solve each other’s problems and help each other grow,” Thompson said.

FUNDING CHANCES TIED TO JOBS

Proponents this year might have a better chance of winning state funding if they can sell the project’s ability to generate economic development and jobs, Marshall said.

“Obviously, items that are seen as Portland-centric tend to struggle in the Legislature,” he said. “If it’s packaged correctly and looks like it benefits a wide variety of people in the state from various regions, it probably has a chance.”

The city can’t afford to fund the project because the cost would be more than twice the amount the city spends annually for capital projects city-wide, Marshall said. “It would be a big ask for the city to do on its own.”

Concord Coach Lines, which offers hourly bus service to Boston, Logan Airport, Bangor, Augusta and the midcoast, is the bigger draw, serving more than a half million people annually from the Portland station. The Downeaster annually shuttles roughly the same number of passengers – about 530,000 – on its entire line between Brunswick and Boston. The Portland station is its second busiest station, after Boston, according to Downeaster data.

The station, a utilitarian single-story structure built in the late 1990s, is owned by Concord Coach Lines. The building was modified in 2001 when the Downeaster service began. A long, enclosed ramp leads from the station to the train platform. During peak times, the platform is congested with people getting on or off the train.

The proposed station would have two tracks with a passenger platform in the middle. That would allow two trains to use the station at the same time, something currently not possible.

GREYHOUND COULD RELOCATE

It would also be large enough to support space for Greyhound, now at St. John Street, and serve as a hub for Portland’s METRO bus system, Brennan said. Planners also want to find a way to provide more frequent transit between the station and downtown.

Patricia Quinn, who heads the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which runs the train service, said she has not been part of any conversations with the city about a new station. She said it would be helpful to have a new station, but a more immediate priority is creating a better transit link between the station and downtown.

Harry Blunt, president of the New Hampshire-based Concord Coach Lines, said the station is congested during heavy travel times, such as Thanksgiving week and during spring school vacation weeks. The space seems adequate the rest of the year, he said.

As the passenger volumes continue to grow, he said, more parking space will be needed, and the public would benefit if there was space for food service.

Blunt, who like Quinn has not been involved in recent discussion for a new station, said proponents will need to show that the benefits of a new station are worth the expense.

“It’s balancing how it gets paid for with how desperately we need it,” he said.

Bus and train passengers interviewed at the station had mixed feelings about the proposal. Some, like Tom Sico of Casco, said the station is just too small to handle the number of passengers.

“Sometimes, it’s wall-to-wall people here,” he said.

But Martha White of Rockport, who was riding a bus to Boston on the first leg of a trip that eventually would take her to Tasmania, doesn’t see the need to spend tax dollars on a new station.

“I think it’s just fine,” she said. “It does the job very well.”