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Tech companies scramble to update maps after I-5 bridge collapse

Tech companies are mobilizing to quickly adjust their maps in the wake of Thursday night’s collapse of the I-5 Skagit River bridge.

Kirkland-based traffic information company INRIX jumped into action minutes after learning of the collapse and mobilized an operations team to update its traffic navigation apps and services.

INRIX’s Jamie Holter says the company was quickly able to reflect the closure and provide detour information on its maps. “We were able to update our maps within about five minutes of the event happening, we had the road closed to alert all drivers in our services within our network.”

Inrix provides both navigation and traffic information in real time. “Sure enough there was little black hash marks on our maps almost immediately,” Holter says. The company also creates congestion maps, that allow it to track where traffic is going.

“And after that we can start to take a congestion picture of where people are going, how fast they are going and then we can share that information with other people and give them an alternate route.”

Google Maps was also updated soon after the collapse to reflect the missing bridge.

Google’s Sierra Lovelace says someone quickly went to Google Mapmaker, which allows users to submit edits to show changes like the bridge collapse.

“The community of people who moderate edits made in Google Mapmaker saw the edits and made them go live very quickly,” she says. Google then edited its database of driving directions to eliminate the bridge from its calculations and divert drivers accurately.

Microsoft’s Bing has yet to reflect the change on its mapping site.

Holter says one of the big challenges for getting traffic data in the area is the lack of cameras and sensors in the road, both on I-5 in the area and surrounding highways and streets. Inrix relies on that information as a primary source for updating its services, along with information provided by its users. The company is also relying on feedback to provide even better real time information as the detours continue while the bridge is repaired.

“The more people start to download the app, the denser that data is and that way we’ll paint a thicker and more denser and more accurate picture, so this really is crowdsourcing at its finest,” Holter says.

Traffic continues to build around the area, with WSDOT reporting a 70 minute drive time between Bellingham and Mount Vernon, less than 28 miles away. KIRO traffic reporter Shane Cobane advises planning at least an extra 45 minutes to navigate the detour around the closed bridge.

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