On Google World, the 41.9-mile trip from Baltimore to Gaithersburg takes all of 48 minutes along the brand new Intercounty Connector. Just take Interstate 95 south, hop on the ICC and you're virtually there.
On Planet Earth, most of the ICC hasn't opened yet. The 10 miles between I-95 and the Montgomery County high-tech hotbed is largely a muddy track where bulldozers are still doing what bulldozers do.
In a textbook illustration of the computer adage "garbage in, garbage out," Google and another popular Web-based mapping service have jumped the gun on the opening of the longest segment of Maryland's new toll road by about a year (Click on image above to enlarge).
"Beware: Everything you read on the Internet may not be true," Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA-Mid-Atlantic, chortled when told about the error.
A 6-mile stretch of the $2.6 billion ICC, between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 370, opened late last month. But the segment between Georgia Avenue and I-95 is under construction and expected to open late this year or early in 2012.
"Clearly Google understands that many of our people who drive our roads also have all-terrain vehicles," Anderson said. "Google's just a little ahead of all of us."
As funny as the mistake may be to a detached observer, it could be less than amusing to a motorist who was unfamiliar with the region and depending on the directions. A traveler from Baltimore to Montgomery County, for instance, could drive down I-95 expecting to get off on the ICC, only to get lost upon finding find no exit.
"If you took a ride down there today, you'd see a very active construction zone," said Cheryl Sparks, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the toll road..
Doug Beizer, a communications manager for an engineering society, stumbled across the misleading directions Thursday when he was plotting a route between his office in Landover and Montgomery General Hospital in Olney.
Google Maps assured him that Route 200, as the ICC is also known, was the way to go. Beizer, who is married to a Sun reporter, knew that wasn't so.
"I saw this map and it drew this line west on a road that doesn't exist yet," said Beizer, whose work travels have made him familiar with the I-95 corridor. "I knew it was one of those glitches."
Beizer tipped off the newspaper. Another Sun reporter was able to reproduce that error and also determined that Google – as well as Yahoo! for a period Friday morning – were directing motorists onto the ICC on a trip from Baltimore to Gaithersburg and other theoretical journeys across the state.
Mapquest, a rival, provided directions more applicable to 2011. It guided drivers to the tedious but existent 58-minute slog along the Capital Beltway and up Interstate 270 that the ICC is intended to render obsolete. By Friday afternoon, Yahoo! had apparently corrected the information but Google was still directing drivers to the unfinished highway. .
Sparks said the transportation authority was aware of the problem before a reporter inquired about it Friday. "We had already reached out to Google," she said. .
Google declined to speak to a reporter by phone but released a statement from a corporate spokesperson: .
"We're aware that a section of Maryland Route 200, which is under construction, is appearing as an available driving route and are working to correct that issue as soon as possible," Google said. .
The statement said Google customers can customize their route by clicking on a blue route line and dragging it to one's preferred road..
"And as always, we encourage users to let us know when something is incorrect by using the 'Report a Problem' tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map," the statement said.
Sparks noted that the authority's board had been talking just the previous day about how to make sure the major computer mapping and GPS services know the first section of the ICC was open.
Messages left for Google and Yahoo! have not yet been returned.