Sen. Mark Pryor visited Conway on Tuesday to see local projects completed under his term and the status of those his work continues to influence.
The largest of the pending projects is the new airport in the Lollie Bottoms area, and in a meeting with Jamie Gates of the Conway Development Corp., Pryor was told that the project would be cheaper if it could be bumped ahead in the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget schedule.
The land acquisition and environmental study hurdles that have held up the project for several years have been cleared, Gates told Pryor, and the airport low lacks only for funding before construction can begin. The FAA has the airport project scheduled to be completed in phases over the course of five years, Gates said, with periods of no activity separating the phases.
Gates reasoned to Pryor that building the airport as one continuous, three-year project would save money because materials such as asphalt could be purchased more cheaply in greater quantities and because it costs more money to deploy and pack up equipment and manpower several times as work stops and starts to suit the FAA’s current funding arrangement.
Pryor said that this seemed reasonable, though he and Gates agreed that fast-tracking Faulkner County’s airport plans could come at the expense of other airport projects throughout the state and the FAA’s southwestern region, which also includes Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico. Gates said that some other airport projects in the state benefited by the Conway project’s environmental study delays, and Conway was due a little "cutting in line" to get back on track.
Pryor said he would "see what he could do" as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Pryor also visited the University of Central Arkansas, where officials there discussed the university’s plans for a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) Residential College. The plan, which involves a more clever use of existing resources than new construction according to UCA vice president for communication Jeff Pitchford, is to dedicate part of Arkansas Hall to students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and provide a faculty mentor to help these students through their early semesters. UCA has other residential colleges, Pitchford said, and research has shown that students enrolled in them tend to make better marks and retain more knowledge. UCA also hopes to secure funding to host summer S.T.E.M. programs for fifth-graders and K-12 educators.
This helps the city’s technology industry, which includes Acxiom and Hewlett-Packard — both of which Pryor visited on Tuesday — by providing a local pool of tech-minded workers, Michael Teague, Pryor’s communications director, said.
Teague also took the opportunity to say that over the course of his Senate career Pryor has allocated $15 million to Faulkner County in federal earmarks and grants, and played a role in directing $43 million in economic stimulus money to the county, including $28 million on the Vilonia Bypass road project.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)