STEUBENVILLE - When Don Snyder's attorney came to see him at Wildfire Motors during a February snowstorm, he wound up stuck at the bottom of Seven Springs Creek Road.
That's because the Jefferson County Industrial Park and its main road, Technology Way, isn't always displayed by some of the most popular GPS systems.
And it might be a combination of factors, including nobody told the GPS companies the road not only exists but is important. A simple e-mail inquiry for this story to a TomTom GPS service employee seems to have put Technology Way on its way to being on the next service update.
GPS LOST — Typing “Technology Way” into a GPS unit won’t necessarily find the Jefferson County Industrial Park, as evidenced by the display on the GPS unit of John Turziano, future product development and marketing director at Wildfire Motors. Businesses in the park say they often have to explain exact directions and advise customers and suppliers not to rely on their GPS to get to the park. The situation could improve in the near future, thanks to a major update of the county’s mapping in its Geographic Information System. — Paul Giannamore
Snyder said his attorney's vehicle wound up having to be yanked out by four-wheel-drive vehicles because even tow trucks wouldn't venture down the road, which is posted as not having winter maintenance.
Over in the call center, one of Snyder's employees, Chris Lough, was busy explaining to an out-of-state caller not to use a GPS but to follow the directions he was giving.
John Turziano, director of future product development and marketing, said he was able to input a waypoint while parked in the Wildfire parking lot that now allows him to select the office. However, he noted that wouldn't do any good for someone who hasn't been at Wildfire yet.
It's the same over at Bully Tools, though an employee said using a Ross Ridge Road address sometimes works. Ross Ridge Road is county Road 43, which passes in front of the building, but isn't the address of the factory.
The industrial park shows up on Google Maps and when the words "Technology Way" are typed into an iPhone, but the aerial photo of the park shows only the Bully Tools and A2C Communications buildings and one of Wildfire's buildings, not buildings that were erected in the park during the past five years or so.
The explanation is simple, and complex.
There is no official map of the United States, and no single service has a monopoly on mapping.
Rob Herrington, Jefferson County 911 director, said there's also the issue of making sure that people keep their GPS units updated.
That will be important this year, as the county finished a major update to its mapping in December. That update will begin to show up in the databases of the companies that maintain maps and sell their data to companies such as Garmin or TomTom, two of the more popular GPS units.
Herrington said the county's re-mapping costs about $325,000 for the 911 system, but with assistance in funding found through Mike Paprocki, transportation director for the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission; and Roxanne Kane, planning and engineering administrator from the Ohio Department of Transportation District 11 office in New Philadelphia, as well as 911 wireless surcharge money, the work was completed.
Herrington emphasized that, even as the updates are obtained by mapping companies, for free as a public record, it is still up to GPS owners to make their updates.
"If you have a GPS device in your car, you are supposed to update, at least annually, your maps," he said.
"In this case, Technology Way definitely is in our maps and it definitely will be in what goes out. But the problem is twofold. They (mapping companies) have to get it first, and then people have to update their devices."
Garmin spokesman Ted Gartner said Garmin uses mapping services provided by a company called NavTeq, which compiles the data. He noted that most of Garmin's newer units offer a lifetime map subscription either built in or for an additional cost, with quarterly updates.
Both he and TomTom spokeswoman Lea Armstrong said there are ways to report mapping errors.
Armstrong said TomTom offers consumers Map Share, a technology available on its devices that allows for instant corrections to a map directly on the device as well as the ability to receive corrections made by all TomTom users.
Armstrong offered a possible explanation for how the industrial park's main road hasn't been fully listed on all services though it's been there for more than a decade. She said while the map-making process at TomTom relies on a variety of government and community sources, "A lack of reporting from both of these sources seems to be the reason that we do not have the street in question in our database."
She said on further inspection, the street appears by data to be simply a dead-end road in an area with few addresses (there are no other neighborhoods in the immediate proximity of the industrial park).
"Considering this, our teams would not have actively sought out GIS data without specific reason to do so, such as a customer-reported error. We searched through our database of change requests from the past five years and could not find any reports of the missing location from the community," she said.
She said the street hasn't been added onto the U.S. Census Bureau's Tiger file data, which is one of the sources TomTom uses.
"However, now that we've been alerted to this change - with your help - we have added this location to our database for future release into our map products," she concluded.
Herrington said the road centerline mapping by the county is done and has been loaded into the system a month ago. New aerial photography also is coming, though he noted very high-resolution photos are critical to the 911 system and are not released publicly because of Homeland Security concerns.
"There is not just a single map or a single aerial photograph of the United States," Herrington said. "It has to filter down through a number of different systems, and the end user has some responsibility for upgrades."
(Giannamore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)