Help File: Google and Bing directions ignore I-66 inside the Beltway

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 7:30 PM

Google refuses to route me on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway; I can't even manually edit its directions to take that highway.

A: You might have read something like this before - in 2007, to be exact, when I noted Google's unwillingness to put drivers on I-66 between the Capital Beltway and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge even when that would be the fastest way.

At the time, Google said it didn't want to steer people onto I-66 during its HOV-only hours. But AOL's MapQuest and Microsoft's Live Maps didn't have that hang-up, trusting drivers to read the large signs on I-66 warning them of those restrictions.

(If you've forgotten: From 6:30 to 9 a.m. eastbound and 4 to 6:30 p.m. westbound, all cars must have at least two occupants, except those headed to or from Dulles International Airport or hybrid vehicles with qualifying Virginia plates.)

In 2008, Google relented, and its mapping site continued to provide correct directions for I-66 through at least October 2010.

But sometime after, it relapsed. So did Bing Maps, the successor to Live Maps. When I checked several days ago, only AOL's MapQuest - otherwise, a middling site - got this right, offering a route on I-66 but warning, "There is a timed restriction on your route." (It might help that many AOL employees must drive that highway to reach its Dulles campus.)

Google and Microsoft representatives said each company was working to fix this error but did not explain how it had happened.

I trust that most residents around here have known to disregard directions that deny the existence of I-66 (and recognize the high odds of being stuck in traffic on the highway), but that might not be the case for visitors, especially those using Google Maps on an iPhone or Android phone.

On the upside, this episode offers a useful reminder to human navigators: If the computer's directions look iffy, double-check them.

Rob Pegoraro

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