Panel offers $4 million extra for SH 121 land

The Colony Courier - Leader/November 22, 2002
By Paul Meyer

A $4 million proposal intended to revive expansion plans along Highway 121 could avoid creating a bottleneck that would affect future transportation plans through The Colony and southern Denton County.

The Regional Transportation Council approved the funds on Thursday, adding to the $10 million already offered by the state, in hopes of resolving a conflict with the Maharishi Global Development Fund that owns a 22-acre tract of land in the Colony. State transportation officials need the land to create a freeway from Plano to Coppell, but have been stalled by landowner demands for just compensation. Funding is already in place and construction will begin next year for the western section of that highway, including a main-lane bridge over Interstate 35E and a direct exit ramp from northbound I-35E to SH 121.

John Johnson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, said Friday that work is already under way with the attorney general's office to draft a settlement agreement and give the development group a 10 day window to accept. The state must approve the new funds.

A $3.8 million judgment in favor of the Maharishi fund settling legal fees from a now-dropped condemnation proceeding also may play a factor in the deal. "I'm hopeful we could put this thing to bed in about three weeks, but if they balk then we will have to work within the right-of-way we currently have," Johnson said. "It has been a long drawn out process and I hope this brings closure to it."

The Maharishi Group had asked for $18 million for the property, and plans to build a slimmer highway are already in place if the group rejects the $14 million offer. The plan would shrink the frontage roads from three lanes in each direction to one or two lanes and restrict access onto Spring Creek Parkway.

That, Denton County Commissioner Sandy Jacobs said recently, would bring future planning for the corridor to a screeching halt. "This inconsistency in access would hinder all future mass transportation between McKinney and the DFW Airport forever," said Jacobs, who has spent most of two decades trying to get the SH 121 highway built. She added the elimination of all high-occupancy vehicle and mass transit lanes has been discussed. Plano officials also don't want the bottleneck.

"Basically, Collin County representatives and cities there were rejecting building it that way, so if this deal is rejected we'll go back and negotiate something else," Plano Mayor Pat Evans, a member of the RTC, said Friday. Evans also brought up the transportation issue for a corridor in which a projected 1 million people will live by 2030. "The other thing that everybody recognized is that there needs to be a median because future plans include light rail down the median," she said. "The alternate way they were planning to build it would foreclose on the future possibility of mass transportation along that corridor."

Plano Traffic Engineer Lloyd Neal says the city has continuing concerns about the level of congestion and potential for accidents around the intersection of Spring Creek Parkway and Highway 121. Highway 121 serves as a primary connector between Dallas' northern suburbs and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The state has more than $350 million worth of projects from McKinney to Coppell scheduled, including the portion through The Colony. Complicating transportation planning is the pending development of the Frisco sports complex at Highway 121 and Legacy Drive. "Even with improvements, Legacy and 121 will be at a failure level, so I've already been talking with the mayor of Frisco on doing something cooperatively to help the situation," Evans said.

Jacobs feels that something must be done soon about the current deadlock between the Global Development Fund and the state, or otherwise construction may be halted for months or years.

"It's extremely important that TxDOT initiates or at least responds to what's going on," Jacobs said. "If the state, especially TxDOT, does not agree to some contract with the landowner, I'm afraid we'll be sitting here for years for the project to proceed. Right now, there's no right of way that has been bought, they can't built the road without the right of way, and there's no legal proceeding that you need to have to go forward. They'd have to start all over."

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