Point of Beginning

Online Map Services Can't Keep up with Big Dig Detours

August 2, 2007

Finally, the Big Dig was ready to be accurately shown on popular online maps and in-car navigation systems.

Then, ceiling panels fell in the Interstate 90 connector tunnel, killed a Jamaica Plain woman, and forced a host of closings and detours.

So the $14.6 billion project did not appear on the radar of two researchers tooling around Boston yesterday in the orange mobile mapping van owned by Tele Atlas, a Boston-based firm that feeds data to Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, MapQuest, and in-car navigation systems.

When the van popped out of the Exit 25 detour on the South Boston Waterfront from the Ted Williams Tunnel, they ignored the detour signs and went straight down Congress Street, away from the fray and into downtown.

Erik Cortes and Jeremy Onysko of Tele Atlas, who are updating maps of Massachusetts, were surrounded by computers, a global positioning system, and a personal navigation system. They said that because of the time lag between when they collect the data and when it goes online, temporary detours are difficult to show on online maps.

``I've tried to avoid much of the detour areas because commuters are having a tough enough time getting around," Onysko said.

The company's specialist on the Big Dig also happens to be on vacation. ``I think he left because of this," Onysko joked.

The Big Dig has long been a hassle for the online mapping world, with so many shifts and openings that the mappers can't keep up. Two years after the main Interstate 93 tunnels were fully open, online maps were having a hard time catching up. They still are.

Google Maps directed northbound motorists yesterday to Logan International Airport via the Exit 23 Government Center detour to the Callahan Tunnel. But on the return trip, the service sent motorists through the Ted Williams Tunnel and on to I-93 south, as if nothing had changed since the July 10 accident.

``I believe we will probably not put the most recent data in, because 98 percent of customers will not be consuming it on time," said Al Cooley, senior director of global product marketing at Tele Atlas.

``The detours will be gone, we hope, before we could deliver them," he said.

Source: The Boston Globe, July 20, 2007.