By Trent Thomas

People may assume Pima County has the sole responsibility of maintenance and law enforcement jurisdiction of all our county roads. After all, if the county is the governmental agency that designs, builds, and repairs the roads, then they also have the right to enforce the vehicular driving laws upon those same roads. However, this isn’t always the case in our county.

Saguaro National Park (East) borders multiple county roads in our area. Specifically, the roads of Old Spanish Trail, Freeman Road, and Broadway Boulevard all abut the national park. This 6 mile stretch of public roads is 100 percent maintained by Pima County. Ana Olivares, the Transportation Director for Pima County, confirmed her department performs all of the road striping, pothole repair, signage, and resurfacing. However, the national park boundary line doesn’t end at the fence of the park. Jurisdictional control of these roads is split down the middle of the aforementioned public roads. Fifty percent of the roadway abutting the federal park property is controlled by the US Government and the remaining 50% of the roadway is controlled by the local government (county or city). This is where the problem begins.

Federal officers performing traffic enforcement on those not visiting the national park.

In 2017, federal law enforcement rangers issued 150 traffic citations on these very same roads. So far, in the first 2 months of 2018, federal rangers issued 25 citations to the general public, putting them on pace to match what they did the previous year. Residents are surprised to learn they can be issued a traffic citation by a park ranger when they aren’t visiting inside the park itself.

Ray O’Neil is the Chief Ranger for Saguaro National Park. Chief O’Neil explained, “We believe that visitors visiting our trailheads and developed areas, as well as the wildlife of the park, are safer when motorists driving our boundary roads follow speed limits and other traffic laws.” To enforce these laws, the federal government employs 4 permanent law enforcement rangers. The chief stressed that the roads bordering the park have concurrent jurisdiction with the surrounding state and local governments. This means a federal officer or a county deputy can stop you for a traffic citation along these roads.

Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZ POST) is the certification process enacted by state legislation. Since 1968, AZ POST has been the state standard for law enforcement agencies to meet integrity, competence, and professionalism standards for all peace enforcement officers. AZ POST has certified approximately 163 law enforcement agencies which include over 14,000 sworn peace officers.

Supervisory Ranger Miranda is one of the law enforcement personnel assigned to enforce the laws of the park. Supervisor Miranda stated, “Our federal officers are not AZ POST certified. However, we have the ability to enforce traffic violations under Federal Code.” Supervisor Miranda referenced 36 CFR 4.21(c) which lists federal speed limits in park boundaries. “I need to make it absolutely clear that the roads surrounding and within the park are within our legal jurisdiction to enforce,” Miranda added.

Gary Benoit is the chief editor for The New American magazine. He looked at this local issue regarding park boundaries and thought this fits into a bigger picture of issues with the federal government and their land ownership. “When you look at the Constitution, it is clear what lands can be federal lands. Western states have a high percentage of their lands held by the federal government,” said Benoit. The editor added that 48.1 percent of Arizona lands are owned by the federal government. Gary referenced a February 11, 2016 article in the magazine stating constitutionally, “Newly created states (including Arizona when admitted to the Union) are to be admitted on an “equal footing” with the original 13 states, meaning with full sovereignty over their lands, not with a distant federal landlord controlling 30 percent, 50 percent, or 90 percent of their land and resources.” The editor looked at our park boundary issue as possibly unconstitutional where the federal government may not have any authority.

Regardless of your view on the Constitution regarding these roads, two things need to be made clear. The roads referenced in the article are 100 percent maintained with local funds. Local and federal officers have concurrent jurisdictional (law enforcement rights) on these roads and can both issue traffic citations to the public.

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Trent Thomas

Trent enjoys writing about what effects our local community. He has served in the U.S. Army, worked as a business manager and even been an airline pilot. He and his family have lived in Vail since 2007.