Time Zone Boundary Craziness

On January 20, 2013 · 5 Comments

Please forgive me for another Time Zone article. I actually had another topic in mind so I’ll bump that one to make room for an unusual observation. Loyal reader David Overton commented on Making the Switch that the most recent Indiana time zone adjustment exacerbated an odd situation. Drivers traveling along a single 19 mile (30 kilometre) stretch of Interstate 64 will switch between the Eastern and Central zones five times in fifteen minutes. I’ve become completely fixated on that geo-oddity for the last couple of days. Let me get this out of my system so we can move on to other topics.

Indiana, as noted, does not fit cleanly into the Convenience of Commerce convention. Distinct metropolitan areas in the Eastern and Central time zones tug at Indiana’s edges. This resulted in an historic volatility in the state’s observation of time. Hence, time zone boundaries shift and flip more frequently than just about anywhere else in the United States.

The situation looked like this once the dust settled after the latest round of strange events, in 2006 and 2007:

UTC hue4map USA-IN 2007-11-04
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.

This map represents time zones in Indiana as of today (January 2013). Undoubtedly it will change. Yellow-shaded counties observe Eastern Time. Red-shaded counties, concentrated in the far northwest and southwest, observe Central Time.

Now let’s take a closer look at a subset of counties clustered in the southwest.

View Crazy Indiana I-64 Time Zone Switches in a larger map

Follow Interstate 64 out of Louisville, Kentucky, heading west. A fictional driver replicating this route would do fine up to now, motoring down a highway happily on Eastern Time. He would cross the Ohio River at Louisville, enter Indiana, and then proceeds another 44 miles (71 km) to the border between Crawford Co. and Perry Co. This point would mark a transition between Eastern Time and Central Time. No worries. Our driver would make a mental adjustment and be on his way. However in quick succession — over the next 15 minutes — he would travel back into Eastern Time (Dubois Co.) then into Central Time (Spencer Co.) then into Eastern Time (Dubois Co.) and finally back into Central Time (Spencer Co.) due to a series of I-64 undulations.

View Larger Map

I’ve marked the spots where each transition happens so it’s a little easier to follow. These are waypoints for westbound traffic. Waypoints would be slightly different for those heading east due to the width of the median strip.

In practical terms a driver would adjust whatever timepiece he carried to Central Time at the initial crossing into Perry and be done with it, ignoring all of the inconsequential clips into successive time zones. However let’s suppose an extremely fastidious traveler wished to observe "proper" time in the most obsessive-compulsive manner imaginable. Using the pushpin labels and choosing a random start time to make it easier to demonstrate:

  • Start in Crawford at 3:00 Eastern Time just before crossing into Perry
  • (A) Enter Perry and change clock to 2:00 Central Time
  • (B) Enter Dubois and change clock to 3:11 Eastern Time
  • (C) Enter Spencer and change clock to 2:12 Central Time
  • (D) Enter Dubois and change clock to 3:13 Eastern Time
  • (E) Enter Spencer and change clock to 2:15 Central Time
  • Continue onward with the journey in Central Time

Again, all of this happens in slightly under 19 miles (30 km) over about 15 minutes.

I consider this as significant as the renowned Time Zone Bridge outside of Riggins, Idaho. First, one can experience so-called backwards time twice, in this case moving counterintitively west into the Eastern Time Zone. Second, it’s incredibly more accessible. This happens along an Interstate Highway between two significant metropolitan areas, not in a remote corner of rural Idaho. Thousands of people, albeit oblivious, experience this Indiana phenomenon every day.

View Crazy Indiana I-64 Time Zone Switches in a larger map

The situation won’t have much of an impact on travelers unless they happen to leave the Interstate at Exit 63, coinciding with the second jog back into Eastern Time while heading west. This places drivers at the doorstep of Ferdinand, Indiana, also in Eastern Time. It might result in unintended consequences for patrons at some of the businesses clustered near the exit. For example check-out times at the Comfort Inn on Main Street might become an issue for those who may have switched mentally to Central Time. Strange things could also result for those using mobile phones as a primary timepieces depending on which side of the border a cell phone tower has been placed. A tower located in Ferdinand would probably be close enough to the highway to set phones to the wrong network time, temporarily.

View Larger Map
Central Time Zone Farmer Trapped by Eastern Time

The situation also created a couple of time zone practical exclaves. A handful of residents living in these tiny pockets cannot access the remainder of their home time without crossing into the other one first (unless they want to make a mad dash across I-64 on foot, which is not advisable). A couple of farms in Spencer Co. are hemmed-in by Eastern Time Zone neighbors in Dubois (map, and above). Spencer returns the favor a few miles further west when four households in Dubois Co., are cornered by the Central Time Zone (map). A third situation is narrowly averted elsewhere by a small road that passes beneath the Interstate (Street View).

I don’t know if this time zone anomaly is well known or not. I couldn’t find anything more about it and it’s not listed on Wikipedia’s I-64 page for Indiana either. Unfortunately anything related to time zones is dominated by page-after-page of garbage links because search engines have been compromised by bogus SEO techniques.

It’s new to me though and I found it fascinating. I’m going to have to find an excuse to drive out there and experience it in person someday. Thank you, David.

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