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The perfect gift for '05: mall access from SR 60

The year 2005 has arrived. Ho-hum.

I'm already thinking about 2006 and beyond. And if you spent any time at Westfield Shoppingtown Brandon in the past month, you should be too.

Hillsborough County officials are discussing ways to finally develop Gornto Lake Road near Hillsborough Memorial Gardens so it connects with its southern section near the mall's eastern entrance off Providence Road.

In other words, at some point in the next few years, you'll be able to turn from State Road 60 onto Gornto Lake to reach one of the mall's two rear entrances.

Talk about a project that's long overdue.

No other mall in the Tampa Bay area is set as far back from a main road or highway as Westfield Shoppingtown Brandon. While such a location has its advantages _ who could imagine sandhill cranes nesting at Westshore Plaza? _ it also creates traffic havoc by forcing all its customers down narrow feeder roads. Imagine pouring a gallon of water into an upside-down funnel.

And because Target and Barnes & Noble both lie off the SR 60 feeder, that narrow road is clogged with drivers turning left and right before they even reach the mall. Turning out of those locations is even more difficult.

Developing that Gornto Lake Road corridor would give drivers, particularly those coming from the east, another route to the mall.

"We have that one remaining gap," said Ned Baier, manager of the transportation division of the county's planning and growth management department. "It's really important to making the traffic circulate better around the mall."

Not only that, but Gornto Lake's southern section stretches into Riverview. That, Baier said, would create a significant north-south corridor to State Road 60 and Interstate 75.

The project has no funding yet, but Baier said private developers have paid for Gornto Lake to grow in the past, section by section. He says the county may look for a private builder to pay for the extension of Gornto Lake when the land near SR 60 is developed.

It's a project the county will be working on throughout 2005. Hopefully, one of these Christmases, it'll pay off.

NOW THAT THE HOLIDAYS ARE BEHIND US, and you've already consumed all the Dewar's in your liquor cabinet, you might be looking for something a little more calming to drink at social get-togethers.

Fortunately, the Florida Department of Transportation has you covered. The FDOT-based Community Traffic Safety Team, made up of citizens, law enforcement and government personnel from around west central Florida, has created Recipes for the Road, a nonalcoholic cookbook made up of 40 recipes from restaurants around the Tampa Bay area.

At their meeting in December, the team served the Tampa Brickyard's Absolute Stress Reliever _ composed of 7-Up, grenadine and cranberry, orange and pineapple juices _ as they toasted the project.

"Every citizen has to drive courteously and they have to drive alcohol-free," Tampa police Assistant Chief Scott Cunningham said. It's an "excellent mix of government and business coming together."

Margarita Mama's, Hops, Shells and the Green Iguana are among the restaurants that contributed recipes. There's Banana Berry Nog, Mango Coolatta, Fruit Fizz and the Sicilian Splash. The word "virgin" is bandied about like confetti _ Virgin Mango Daiquiri, Classic Virgin Pina Colada, Virgin Strawberry Margarita.

If they can help promote responsible drinking, officials say, the cookbook will be a success.

"It's certainly important to focus our attention on the issue of drinking and driving," said Ken Hartmann, the FDOT's District 7 secretary. "For a modest cost, if this little booklet saves one life . . . it's worth every penny we put into it."

An online version of the cookbook is available at the Hillsborough County sheriff's Web site, www.hcso.tampa.fl.us. For now, try the Cuban Mojito, courtesy of Chavez in Hyde Park.

INGREDIENTS: 1 lime, squeezed; 3 tablespoons sugar; 2 sprigs of mint; 6 ounces of Sprite; and ice.

DIRECTIONS: Squeeze lime into shaker. Add sugar and mint. Mix it together until mint is smashed up, then combine Sprite and ice. Pour into glass and garnish with mint or lime slice.

The Lane Ranger is currently stuck in traffic. But he can be reached at cridlinsptimes.com.

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