As wildfire closes California interstate, Waze sends drivers down dead end

As wildfire closes California interstate, Waze sends drivers down dead end

28 September 2018

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USA – When a brush fire closed Cajon Pass for hours on Wednesday, frustrated drivers followed their map apps’ advice — and ended up at the end of a remote forest road with barely enough room to turn around.

Residents of the tiny Lytle Creek community say the unfortunate detour was the latest in a string of problems caused by Google Maps and Waze whenever there’s a blockage on Cajon Pass, the stretch of Interstate 15 between the high desert and the Los Angeles metro area.

John Ruha, a Lytle Creek resident, said northbound drivers leave I-15 and head up Lytle Creek Road, thinking they’ll be able to cut back to the interstate. Eventually, he said, they hit a locked gate, forcing them to turn around.

“Tens of thousands of people are getting off the freeway, going up into our community, and finding out that they have to turn around and come back down,” Ruha said.

“That’s not just cars and trucks. Semis are going up there, buses, you name it. … It’s creating a huge problem.”

It’s eight miles from the freeway to the mountain community. Three miles past that, the pavement ends. There’s a shooting range there, and its website addresses the remoteness: “When you think you are lost, keep driving — we are out here.”

While the misdirected traffic is an inconvenience, Ruha noted it’s a potential public safety risk if emergency vehicles are unable to get through to the community.

Roni Edis, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Public Works Department, concurred, saying that if Wednesday’s Keenbrook Fire had shifted to Lytle Creek, those motorists would have been stuck there.

“We’ve actually sent some information to Google Maps and Waze to try to get them to not send people to those areas … but have never been able to get anywhere with them about it,” Edis said.

The Keenbrook Fire started around 11 a.m. Wednesday on the west side of I-15, four miles southeast of Lytle Creek, and reached 20 acres in less than an hour. Both directions of the freeway were closed. Within a few hours it was at 50 acres, and traffic was backed up for miles.

The U.S. Forest Service, which has jurisdiction over Lytle Creek Road north of the community of Lytle Creek, has also had conversations with Google about the redirection to forest roads, said Zach Behrens, a Forest Service spokesman.

Signs on Lytle Creek Road inform motorists that there is no access to I-15 or to Lone Pine Canyon Road, which runs between Cajon Pass and the town of Wrightwood.

Despite the official warnings, Edis said, motorists will ignore the signs and instead rely on their smartphones.

“People need to obey and listen to the signs,” Edis said. “If you see signs out there that say ‘Don’t go that way’ — even if Waze or Google told you to — it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a safe way to go.”
Ruha said he’d like to see signs to that effect posted immediately off the freeway. And, when there is an incident in the Cajon Pass, he hopes the California Highway Patrol will provide an officer to direct traffic away from local roads.

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