Conway officials learned Wednesday that the city will receive almost $5.8 million in federal funding for construction at the municipal airport.

The funding is more than expected and arrived early, Mayor Tab Townsell said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor made the funding announcement during a small ceremony at City Hall.

"This is good news for Conway, and it has been a total team effort," Pryor said. "Everyone here knows Conway needs a new airport. It’s a big safety issue."

Pryor noted that two fatalities occurred in 2007 when a plane collided with a house near the airport.

About $5.2 million was expected from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program, but not this soon, said Jamie Gates, vice president of Conway Development Corp. He said city officials and CDC have worked consistently for six years to acquire funding and develop a plan for the airport site at Lollie Bottoms west of Conway.

"What we’ve done locally is come up with a plan for construction to prove to the federal government that we can build an airport by 2014," Gates said. "We’ve done that with help."

Gates said Pryor and his staff "have been persistent advocates since day one."

Townsell said work has begun on the airport’s 5,500-foot runway, and with the latest boost in funding the runway will be paved this year. Funds also will be used to install perimeter fencing.

Pryor said he relayed Conway airport safety concerns in conversation with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who ultimately agreed that funding should be provided before another fiscal year.

The congested nature of the Dennis F. Cantrell Field Airport in Conway, situated between a residential neighborhood and Interstate 40, has caused problems in the past.

Pryor said Faulkner County also will benefit from a new airport because the area serves as a regional center for the Fayetteville Shale Play.

"This funding keeps the new airport scheduled for an on-time arrival and will allow for safer and more efficient travel in and out of Conway," Pryor said. "This airport is one of many projects that puts Conway on the map for future job creation and economic growth."

The funding announcement also came from the offices of U.S. Sen. John Boozman and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin.

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