A map from the Caltrans website quickmap.dot.ca.gov shows red and black markings indicating extremely slow eastbound traffic at 4:20 p.m. Monday on Highway 37 at Sears Point. A Road Warrior reader says he runs into this regularly now, if not worse.

Here’s a question from a reader:

I drive back and forth on Highway 37 every day because I work in Novato.  It seems like the traffic in the afternoons has been horrendous for the last 2-3 months.  It doesn’t matter which day of the week but the backup often extends beyond the Petaluma River and even sometimes it will backup close to 101.  Even more shocking is that it is summer time and kids aren’t even in school so one would think it would actually be lighter.  Did Caltrans change the timing of the light at Sears Point?   Scott

Scott sent us the question in mid-August, and this week we receive an answer from Caltrans spokesman Robert Haus:

We agree that traffic congestion on Highway 37 is significant.  It is especially heavy during the summer and early autumn months, when the tourism season is at its peak.

We are always looking for ways to improve traffic flow through better signalization and more efficient traffic operations systems.  We recently conducted a field review of the light at 37 and 121, and determined it is operating at peak efficiency. We also noted that two of the “Left Lane Must Turn Left” signs are missing. We will replace those signs shortly to reduce any potential confusion.

As you know, Highway 37 passes through one of the last great marsh areas of the Bay Area.  Any sort of highway improvement or modification project through a marsh area would be subject to stringent environmental regulations.  In addition, the current financial challenges faced by the State of California are forcing more projects to compete with each other for the available funds.

If you feel strongly about the subject, we encourage you to communicate your feelings to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, the Transportation Authority of Marin, the Solano Transportation Authority and the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency.  Being the local transportation authorities, they have a substantial voice in determining which highway projects should proceed.

We will continue to closely monitor the traffic levels on Highway 37, and will take any practical measures to reduce congestion.

From the Road Warrior:  After we first heard from Scott, he sent us a follow-up message that the “backup on Highway 37 eastbound normally occurs every day during the work week and can start as early as 3:00p in the afternoon and can still be bad as late as 7:00p.  It doesn’t seem to matter which day of the week it is or whether it is a holiday although Fridays are particularly bad.”

He also added:  “For some reason, this back up never was an issue up until about 4-5 months ago.  Our (company) president has been commuting from the Glen Ellen area for 28 years now and he said that he has never seen it like this.”

And: “We can’t seem to figure out what has caused this gridlock and it really impedes the productivity of our business (and I’m sure many others).  Not to mention the sanity of our employees.” So much so, he noted in another email, that his company was considering changing employee’s work hours.

And after we received Caltrans’ response, Scott wrote: “I guess we’ll just have to gut it out on this end.  We’ve already implemented a revised work schedule.” 


If you have a question for the Road Warrior, please email it to jim.fremgen@pressdemocrat.com


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  1. jennifer

    Speaking for myself, I’ve found that with all the road construction happening on Hwy 101, it is faster for us to get from Marin to Rohnert Park by heading down hwy 37 to Lakeville hwy. We simply check the traffic on our phones, and if hwy 101 is backed up, we use 37 instead. So I imagine others are doing that as well?

    September 28th, 2012 8:55 pm

  2. Trevor

    I drive that 3 times a week for the last 9 years and have been lucky not to get stuck too bad, though I agree it is more congested. Two things I’ve noticed that may impeed traffic are a) the wetlands restoration project (truck traffic and people looking at whats going on) and b)those tents from the tent rental place by the hay farm (close to Sears Point). From a distance it looks like a circus tent in the middle of no where. It is my thought that people figure out what it is when they get close, but it is enough to slow the commute down.

    September 29th, 2012 9:15 am

  3. Randy

    some day higway 37 needs to become 4 lanes.

    September 29th, 2012 10:49 am

  4. matt

    Jennifer is right. 101 is such a disaster, with construction and marin county drivers that 37 is a pleasant alternative.

    September 29th, 2012 11:47 am

  5. Valerie Harrah

    I started working Novato in August 2011 I get on Highway 37 East at Black point on ramp right before the bridge over the petaluma river and turn off at highway 121 to go home to Sonoma. It can take me 30 to 45 minutes to go the 5 miles to the 121 turn off. It is bad all the time. On friday 9/28 I had three semi in front of me in the far left lane and they stay in the far left lane until right before they turned into the two left turn lanes to sonoma/napa. Of course the cars going straight to Vallejo would not let the semi over so I was stuck behind them as I could not get to Sonoma/Napa turn lanes. Every day many people going to Vallejo impede the traffic going to Sonoma/Napa by staying in the turn only lanes. And you can see the same cars doing it over and over again. And they also get in turn lane to Sonoma/Napa turn on to 121 and then get in the left turn lane at Sonoma Track and cop a u turn and go back to get on 37 ahead of people that played by the rules and were in the correct lanes. I really love it when cars drive at 40 -45 miles per hour down the right hand shoulder on Highway 37 east to get ahead of every one. I am waiting for the day when one of the cars does this and runs into a broken down car on the shoulder or perhaps a CHP car on the shoulder.

    People at my work say that they know a lot of people who work in San Francisco and that they come home via golden gate, 101 to 37 to Vallejo and Fairfield as it is only 3 miles longer and they don’t have to pay bridge toll in either direction that way. Morning commute they use the bay bridge, afternoon commute they use the Golden Gate. No wonder California has no money.

    September 29th, 2012 4:17 pm

  6. Rex Faktor

    Sure would be nice to have 37 be 4 lanes the whole way, but that doesn’t seem likely any time soon. What would make a huge difference would be real interchanges at Lakeville and 121, in preparation for someday being able to widen the rest of the highway to Vallejo.

    September 29th, 2012 6:13 pm

  7. ks

    I’ve started taking 37 to lakeville because I live in Petaluma and just can’t stand sitting in the Novato traffic (trying to adjust work schedule is impossible – already getting there as early as I can to avoid the am commute). But you have to make a note of the sign right after Hamilton that says the times to Sears Point and Petaluma. If it’s less to Sears Point, I take 37. One time it was the same to Petaluma and Sears Point but I figured 37 wouldn’t be that bad…it was a Friday. Biggest mistake of the day. Sat in traffic on 37 basically right after getting of 101 to the Lakeville light. It’s gotten to the point where there is no way to get to Petaluma on a Friday afternoon without sitting in horrible traffic (and this is having 2 “backup” routes). I do think since they added that Novato carpool extension that it’s gotten worse. Even on the weekends you can’t get through without a huge backup. Just wish there was an easy way to get to work on public transportation (it would take me at least 3 buses…:(

    October 1st, 2012 10:02 am

  8. Lou Sylvestri

    Why is traffic heavy on 37? Because of all the cars?

    Oh, a wise guy eh!

    October 3rd, 2012 1:54 pm

  9. Jack Riggen

    Ha, those tents! There was a few days after they put those up that west-bound traffic, WEST BOUND, slowed to a crawl right around Skaggs Island. I hit that backup a couple of times and thought “Oh great, we have our own lookeeloo backup like there is on southbound 101 coming into Petaluma when that corn maze goes up every year”.

    I swore that if it didn’t lighten up, I was going to call their contact number and let them know what a pain their advertisement was creating.

    October 14th, 2012 8:42 am

  10. Andrea Gensheimer

    I just recently started commuting to Sonoma and let me tell you that all of you folks using Hwy 37 as a bypass are making my life a living hell. I can’t tell you how infuriating it is to read these comments. Between the toll evaders commuting from SF and the Petaluma residents using 37 to avoid 101, no wonder traffic is so unbearable!! Yesterday the 511 sign in Novato said 90 minutes to Sears Point thanks to all of you. 90 minutes! If it was used by those who should be actually using it there wouldn’t be such a mess. I cannot wait for the lane widening in the Novato narrows so you folks going to P-Town or further north will get back on the 101 and stay off of the 37. As for the toll evaders I unfortunately see no end in sight but please stay out of the dang left hand turn only lane!!

    June 14th, 2013 9:16 am

  11. Laurie Murphy

    Andrea, I am one of those Petalumans using 37. I live right off 116 so it makes sense for me to use that route rather than 101. It is really only this bad during the summer months. I can’t figure out why but I don’t think it’s the fault of either of the groups you point out. Otherwise, it would be bad year round. I complain bitterly to my coworker who also takes that route to Napa so I totally feel your pain. I’ve been taking this route for 13 years now and not until last summer did we see these terrible delays. Caltrans – we’ve got to do something about this!

    June 20th, 2013 4:11 pm

  12. Amy Stone

    I agree with Andrea in part that there are a lot more folks from Petaluma using the 37 as an alternative route whether or not they live on the East side of town. Hopefully when the widening at the Novato narrows is complete, that will resolve the added congestion from Petalumans. As far as the Vallejo area residents using that route to evade toll, I don’t have any suggestions. It would however be VERY helpful if the powers that be would erect some sort of barrier as it goes from a dotted line to a solid line so that people cannot cut over at the last minute to Vallejo and block the left lanes. Nine times out of 10, those drivers know EXACTLY what they are doing, and happily bypass all the drivers who have sat in the right hand lane waiting.

    Cones have been erected (similar to those on the Golden Gate Bridge) in Marin County at the Larkspur/580 exit/onramp between lanes to stop people from cutting over last minute to jump on the 101N (which is illegal and very dangerous from that point), and also to stop people from slowing down traffic because they are trying to cut over at the last minute to get on the offramp to the 580. It has helped tremendously.

    Another sign warning people that the left lane is for Sonoma only and the right lane is for Vallejo only much earlier would also be tremendously helpful – the current sign is too close to the actual split to do much good for those that honestly didn’t know about the split. I just want to get home, as we all do, but nobody should have the ability to literally stop traffic because they feel they are above everyone else and don’t have to wait like the rest of us. I don’t know what it would cost to add those cones or another sign but it sure would help!

    August 9th, 2013 12:24 pm

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