Maharishi Fund OKs $14 million price for right of way

After lengthy bouts of discussion, debate and disagreement, the right-of-way problem that has plagued plans to build freeway lanes on State Highway 121 through The Colony might finally be over.

Coppell Gazette/December 6, 2002
By Andrew Weinman

The Maharishi Global Development Fund finally decided to sell 21.6 acres of its land to the Texas Department of Transportation for $14 million. The property, located on the southern part of SH 121 east of Plano Parkway/Paige Road, is the final segment of land needed to complete the widening of SH 121 and create a six-lane freeway from Coppell to McKinney.

Construction on this portion of the highway - from Farm-to-Market Road 544 to Preston Road on the Plano/Frisco border -- is expected to begin next year and be completed in 2006. The section from Coppell, near DFW Airport to Interstate 35E will begin construction in February. It will include a new exit from northbound I-35E to SH 121 and an entrance to southbound I-35E to be completed by the end of 2003.

The section from I-35E to FM 544 also will begin work next year. Construction on an interchange at SH 121 and the Dallas North Tollway and on frontage roads from Preston Road to U.S. 75 is under way.

Although the state was prepared to pay only $10 million for the Global Fund land at the beginning of the negotiations, the Regional Transportation Council of the North Central Texas Council of Governments managed to add an additional $4 million to the offer, sweetening the deal and bringing the price closer to the fund's original selling price.

The state had originally planned to purchase all 38 acres of the land from the fund for $10 million. The fund valued its land at $27 million. The state took the fund to court to try and lower the fund's price; however Judge Don Windle ruled in the fund's favor, and TxDOT dropped the case after the fund would not accept the $10 million offer for the smaller amount of land. Windle later ruled that the state owed the fund $3.7 million in penalties because of legal errors and property code violations.

Eventually, representatives such as Denton County Commissioner Sandy Jacobs and Regional Transportation Council head Michael Morris were called in to help smooth things over between the state and the fund.

TxDOT had made plans to proceed with the 121 project without purchasing the fund's land, narrowing the number of frontage-road lanes from three on each side of the freeway to two on the north side and one on the south side. A possible exit at the future extension of Spring Creek Road also was in jeopardy.

However, federal funding authorities decided that this change was too radical and too different from the original plans to be implemented, forcing negotiations to continue. The fund eventually settled to give the state 21.6 acres of their land for $14 million; although the state balked at this offer and stuck with their original bid, the RTC worked hard to get the additional $4 million needed to finish the deal.

"RTC decided to take 4 million and put it towards this project, knowing it would give this project the possibility for negotiations to occur," Jacobs said. "A lot of different players came together to make this work, and the result is that the public in this are will have a big benefit."

As part of the deal, the Global Fund will relinquish its claim on the $3.7 million penalty. Richard Hayes, attorney for the Global Fund, said that the majority of the delay in reaching an agreement with the state resulted from the oscillatory nature of the state's pricing requests.

"It's hard to know which way to go if the state can't make up its mind on how much land the state wants," Hayes said. "The fund has scratched its head several times when the state was making comments to the effect that they were being slowed because of land acquisition, when it was (the state) who controlled the clock."

Despite the confusion about who is responsible for the delays, Hayes is still glad things are finally back on schedule. "We have an agreement in principal. As with any resolution, there are other details on items to be worked through, and we're hopeful that those items will be completed within the next month," Hayes said.

The Colony public works director Ken Leverich said the news is one of the best things he has heard in a while. "Well, I'm just glad it's all behind us now," Leverich said. "Now we can move forward with the expansion of the 121 corridor and... make traffic a little better than what it's been. A lot of people drive down 121, but they don't get off in The Colony, which makes it difficult for people out here to get where they want on time."

Now that the problems concerning 121 are all but over, all the involved parties are starting to relax. "From a mayor's perspective, it's good that the Maharishi Fund and TxDOT came to a mutual agreement, because this is going to enhance transportation for everyone Denton County," said The Colony Mayor Bernetta Henville-Shannon said. "Now The Colony doesn't have to face the bottleneck going south on 121."

After working extensively with TxDOT, the fund, and the people of The Colony, Jacobs believes that the long years of work for the 121 project have finally paid off.

"Everybody saw the importance of the mobility and what it would do to this region, and I think the city of The Colony played a major role. The end result is everybody found the place they could feel comfortable and agree to," Jacobs said. "I spent 18 years on this project," Jacobs added. "This is my Christmas gift for the next 10 years."

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