Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

I drive several times a year to my periodontist in Vallejo for a cleaning and exam. Been doing it for maybe 20 years.

Only recently have I begun questioning the sanity of my periodontist choice. It isn’t that my care has become slipshod. It’s the traffic.

Driving to Vallejo for my 7 a.m. appointments, I pass a ribbon of northbound vehicles slogging their way to Napa in the dark.

Experts talk about the jobs/housing imbalance and how it forces thousands of people to live elsewhere and commute into the Napa Valley for work. This sad northbound procession is those people.

How do these commuters handle it? I wonder. Do they toughen up if they do it long enough? Do they listen to books on tape? Do they obliterate the pain with high-decibel, mind-numbing music?

All I know is that I’ll be joining this Napa-bound crawl through American Canyon in another hour and a half on my trip back. And when I do, a little piece of me will die.

The Bay Area has some of the worst congestion in the nation. Locals buy powerful SUVs and fancy sports cars, but it’s for naught. Large chunks of their motoring lives will be spent creeping along clogged highways. They might as well be on scooters.

I-80 is legendarily bad, but twice a day our Highway 29 in the heart of the Napa Valley is a blight on the motoring landscape too. During the week it’s the commuters, on weekends the tourists.

I shouldn’t be complaining. On work mornings I leave for the Register at 7:15 and arrive by 7:30 without backups or slowdowns. It’s heavenly.

Not so Cheryl. She has to thread the needle to get to work in north Napa.

Her morning trip can be 10, 15, even 25 minutes, depending on vagaries in public school schedules and the whims of the vehicular universe.

So sophisticated is her personal commuting algorithm that if she finds herself ready to leave for work too early, she won’t go. Better to kill 10 minutes at home than sit longer in traffic on Redwood/Trancas.

I should note that Cheryl and I both have east-west commutes on local streets that hop over the freeway. We do not actually go ON the freeway.

Especially at rush hour. Why would any sane person want to do that?

A Napa acquaintance, a car guy, used to enjoy driving through the Bay Area countryside in his leisure. No more. He’s thinking of chucking California for the open roads of Nevada when he retires.

I know others who say they don’t go into the city like they used to. The traffic hassle is just too much.

Many have switched airports. They say the drive to Sacramento’s airport is a breeze compared to getting to SFO or Oakland.

Cheryl and I now think twice when planning Bay Area outings, even on weekends. We’re continually surprised when trips that used to take 60 minutes are now 90.

This seems so wrong.

I worry that as conditions worsen and our resolve softens, we’ll become Napa-bound.

Former Napa Councilmember JoAnn Busenbark used to scoff when residents would complain about intolerable traffic delays on the city’s main roads. This was decades ago.

Napa’s rush hour is all of a half hour, she would say. How can that be intolerable?

Busenbark had a point. Conditions other places were worse. We had it relatively good.

And I guess we still do, although it feels as if we’re motoring frogs splashing in the proverbial pot of water that will soon be heated to a full boil.

I’m on traffic high alert as new multi-unit housing projects are about to open at First Street and Freeway Drive — a choke point on my breezy drive to and from work.

The housing is needed, certainly, but I don’t see it helping traffic conditions any.

Selfish me is girded for more delays.

In the meantime, I’ve taken a small action to assuage my traffic frustrations: I’ve switched periodontists. My new dentist is in Napa.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.