What is significant about the annual Petaluma Pumpkin Patch along the western side of Highway 101 this year is what is not happening — the annual traffic jam that backed up cars almost to Cotati.

The difference is the opening this summer of an additional driving lane on the roadway from Rohnert Park to Old Redwood Highway. It's the first widening of the freeway since it was constructed as a four-lane roadway in 1956 and allows traffic to spread out.

"I haven't seen any at all this year. It is definitely nice to see traffic flowing, whether I am in it or not in it," said pumpkin patch owner Jim Groverman. "People talk about it, how it would be nice to see three lanes all the way to the Novato Narrows."

Groverman's pumpkin patch and corn maze have been a Halloween staple for 18 years in a field at the foot of the Cotati Grade in Petaluma. Over the years, it became more famous for the legendary traffic backups it seemed to create than the fun that could be had once you got to it. This year, it opened Sept. 28 and will close after Halloween.

Groverman said he began the patch 18 years ago and the corn maze 14 years ago, when Sonoma County's population was much less, and doesn't remember when the traffic tie-ups began.

The absence of weekend congestion, however, is noticeable.

"This year, we have not had any complaints," CHP Officer Jon Sloat said. "Traditionally, on weekends, you would not have a southbound backup until the pumpkin patch was getting going. It would, at its worst, be to Railroad Avenue."

Sloat said aside from the inconvenience of the traffic jam, they were not really able to determine whether there were also more accidents.

"The pumpkin patch doesn't cause accidents. It is the drivers taking their eyes off the road that caused accidents," Sloat said. "We checked last year. The backup would be worse when it was there, but there were no more accidents."

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@<QA0>