The well-worn trails between Maya city-states presented difficult traveling conditions. They were dark and deep within shadows of the rainforest, with treacherous, slippery slopes and tangled jungle roots. During the rainy season travel was impossible. To solve the problems of traveling between city-states the Maya developed an engineering solution.
Maya engineers constructed broad concrete paved roads elevated above the tangled, flooded jungle floor. These elevated roadways or “sacbeob” enabled Maya commerce, governmental and military activities to travel between cities during all seasons of the year and on a 24-hour basis. The rough tangled jungle trails were flooded for six months a year and the elevated paved roads were the solution for the efficient and transport of personnel and material between cities.
The construction of the sacbeob or "white roads" featured a design that was superior to Roman roads and paralleled our modern highway system. The sacbeob were constructed in widths up to 10 meters and paved with white cast-in-place concrete pavement. The pavement was elevated from one meter to three meters above the jungle floor. The roads featured traffic intersections, drainage features and rest stops complete with water supply.
The most prominent sacbe explored by archaeologists lies between the Maya cities of Cobá and Yaxuna. This road extends for 100 kilometers in an east/west line. This sacbe was surveyed by the Carnegie Institution in 1934 and a survey was carried out by James A. O'Kon, P.E. in 1995, 2001, and 2002. The initial survey by the Carnegie Institution was carried out using a magnetic compass. The O'Kon survey utilized satellite and remote sensing, aerial photography and ground based GPS studies. The O'Kon expedition confirmed the design and configuration of the classic sacbe.