Minimum Embedment Requirements for MSE Structures. Technical Bulletin: MSE - 7

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1 The Reinforced Earth Company 8614 Westwood Center Drive Suite 1100 Vienna, Virginia Telephone: (703) Telefax: (703) Minimum Embedment Requirements for MSE Structures Technical Bulletin: MSE - 7 October 1995 Atlanta Boston Dallas/Ft. Worth Irvine, CA Lafayette, IN Orlando Seattle Vienna, VA

2 TABLE OF CONTENTS Page No. I. Introduction 1 II. Embedment to Prevailing Depth of Frost Penetration 1 III. Minimum embedment Depending on Slope in Front of Wall 2 IV. Recommendations 3 V. Suggested Special Provision Language 4

3 I. Introduction A mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) structure behaves as a flexible gravity mass. The individual facing units independently restrained by the soil reinforcements, allow the structure to be nearly as flexible as the soil embankment itself. This inherent flexibility allows the structure to be built on sites where significant total and differential settlement is anticipated. It has long been recognized that MSE walls constructed using precast concrete panels with a surface area of 30 square feet or less, and 3/4 inch open joints around the perimeter of each panel can tolerate differential settlement up to 1 percent (1 ft. in 100 ft. along the wall). Therefore, the effect of variable foundation soils is rarely a problem for MSE walls with this type of facing. MSE walls constructed with drycast concrete masonry blocks approximately one (1) square foot in facing area (with 1/16" joints) can tolerate differential settlement up to 0.4 percent (approximately 4 inches in 100 ft. along the wall). If differential settlement exceeding 1 percent for panels or 0.4 percent for blocks is anticipated, overexcavation and replacement of the shallow compressible foundation soils with an engineered fill will generally reduce differential settlement to an acceptable level. The base of the reinforced soil mass which coincides with the top of leveling pad is considered to be the wall foundation elevation. The required embedment should be measured to this point. The thickness of the leveling pad should not be considered as part of the embedment. In addition, the leveling pad is not a structural footing, since, for walls with panels, it consists of lean, un-reinforced concrete with its only purpose being to provide a smooth, level surface on which to erect the facing panels. The leveling pad is intentionally weak to allow it to crack should significant differential settlement occur. This is a necessary feature to provide the facing panels the freedom to move. The leveling pad for blockwalls may consist of either lean, un-reinforced concrete or a compacted granular subbase. Once again, the leveling pad is only to provide a smooth, level surface on which to erect the facing units. The minimum embedment required for MSE structures is independent of the type of facing system used. The minimum embedment is based on satisfying both the local bearing capacity of the foundation soils beneath the leveling pad and to provide protection against localized erosion. II. Embedment to Prevailing Depth of Frost Penetration The requirement that the base of a reinforced soil structure be embedded below the prevailing depth of frost penetration has no basis. In fact, there are no known instances of damage to an MSE wall due to frost heave. The reinforced soil itself is not susceptible to frost heave, and the facing units (panels or blocks) restrained by the soil reinforcements, are free to move. In addition, the leveling pad is too narrow 1

4 for significant frost forces to act on, unlike the width and rigidity of a structural footing supporting a cast-in-place cantilever wall or a rigid modular wall system. There is no more threat of frost heave under an MSE structure than there is under an ordinary soil embankment or over-steepened reinforced slope. On the other hand, if the foundation soils are prone to produce frost heave and this is of concern to the engineer, a trench excavation to the prevailing depth of frost penetration can be made, centered beneath the proposed leveling pad, for the full length of the wall. the trench should have a width equal to twice the depth of frost penetration and it should be backfilled with a non-frost susceptible granular material. In addition, a drainage system should be provided at the bottom of the frost trench to eliminate ponding. III. Minimum Embedment Depending on Slope in Front of Wall In most states, current practice requires a minimum embedment of one foot (0.3M) for walls which have a level ground surface in front. This embedment allows minimizing the surface area of the facing units, while maintaining a reasonable amount of erosion protection. Generally, there is no need to be deeper because the applied bearing pressure is relatively uniform beneath the wall and the sole purpose of the facing is to keep the soil directly behind it from flowing away. The use of one foot (0.3M) embedment has proven safe for structures along highways with level ground conditions in front of the wall. However, there are conditions when greater than one foot (0.3M) embedment is necessary. These conditions include (but are not limited to) walls requiring scour protection from stream flow, walls with steeply sloping grades running parallel to the wall face, buttress walls at the toe of slopes, walls with utilities directly in front of them (to allow access to the utilities), and walls of a height requiring greater embedment or with the grade in front of the wall sloping away, as discussed below. The tabulated basis for embedment (ratio) for walls and abutments presented in the 1994 AASHTO interim specifications for highway bridges is reasonable in every case except for the case of a 3H:1V slope in front of the structure. The embedment requirement in this case is 20% greater than that necessary. The numerical minimums specified in AASHTO should be reconsidered. For comparison, the minimum embedment requirements recommended by The Reinforced Earth Company (RECo) and those recommended in the 1994 AASHTO Interim Specifications are tabulated below: 2

5 Slope in Front of Structure AASHTO Embedment Minimum Basis RECo Recommendation Minimum Basis 1 Horizontal-walls 2.0 ft.(0.6m) H/ ft.(0.3m) H/20 Horizontal-abutments ft.(0.6m) H/ ft.(0.6m) H/10 3H:1V-walls 2.0 ft.(0.6m) H/ ft.(0.45m) H/12 2H:1V-walls 2.0 ft.(0.6m) H/7 2.0 ft.(0.6m) H/7 1.5H:1V-walls 2.0 ft.(0.6m) H/5 3.0 ft.(0.9m) H/5 "True" bridge abutments with abutment supported by MSE fill (non-pile supported) As can be seen, the numerical minimums are different in almost every case. Logically the numerical minimums should vary depending on the type of structure and the slope in front of the structure. Considering the type of structure, the minimum embedment required for a wall supporting a bridge abutment should be greater than that for an ordinary retaining wall supporting a fill. The applied bearing pressure beneath a wall supporting an abutment is greater than that of a wall of the same height supporting a fill. Therefore, the embedment depth for a retaining wall should be less than for an abutment wall as shown under RECo's recommendations. Considering a slope in front of the wall, the local bearing capacity beneath the leveling pad is reduced by the presence of a slope. Therefore, the minimum embedment should be increased in proportion to the slope angle as recommended by RECo. In addition, a minimum 3 ft. (0.9M) wide level surface (bench) should be provided directly in front of the wall at the top of slope for any slope in front of wall condition. IV. Recommendations: 1. Since additional embedment in excess of 1 foot (0.3M) is generally not needed for walls constructed on level ground, it is recommended to reduce the 2 foot (0.6M) numerical minimum embedment specified in AASHTO to 1 foot (0.3M). This requirement will then be consistent with practice over the past 10 years. 2. It is recommended that the minimum embedment be measured to the top of leveling pad (base of reinforced soil structure) and not to the bottom of leveling pad. 3. It is recommended to adjust the embedment requirement specified in AASHTO for walls constructed on 3H-1V slopes from H/10 to H/12 to be consistent with the embedment required for other slope in front of wall conditions. 3.

6 4. It is recommended that a minimum embedment be specified in a table for each of the slope in front of wall conditions to insure adequate embedment for all conditions. 5. For walls constructed on a slope, it is recommended that a minimum 3 ft. (0.9M) wide level surface be provided directly in front of the wall. 6. It is recommended to remove all reference to the need to embed the toe of wall below the prevailing depth of frost penetration. However, if frost susceptible material is present beneath the wall, it is recommended to excavate the unsuitable material to the depth of frost penetration for a width equal to twice the depth of frost penetration, centered beneath the leveling pad, and replace it with a free draining material and a drain system. V. Suggested Special Provision Language The minimum embedment required for all MSE walls shall be as follows unless shown otherwise on the drawings: Slope in Front of Structure Required Embedment Minimum Basis Horizontal-walls 1.0 ft.(0.3m) H/20 Horizontal-abutments ft.(0.6m) H/10 3H:1V-walls 1.5 ft.(0.45m) H/12 2H:1V-walls 2.0 ft.(0.6m) H/7 1.5H:1V-walls 3.0 ft.(0.9m) H/5 1 "True" bridge abutments with abutment supported directly on MSE fill The embedment shall be measured from the proposed finished grade in front of the wall to the top of leveling pad (bottom of facing units). For walls constructed on a slope, a minimum 3 ft. (0.9M) wide level surface shall be provided directly in front of the wall. Embedment of MSE walls below the prevailing depth of frost penetration is not required. If the foundation soils beneath the MSE structure are susceptible to frost heave, a trench excavation to the prevailing depth of frost penetration shall be centered beneath the leveling pad for the full length of wall. The trench shall have a width equal to twice the depth of frost penetration and shall be backfilled with a non-frost susceptible granular material. A 4 inch diameter perforated drain pipe, wrapped in filter fabric and outletted to drain, shall be provided in the bottom of the trench. C:\WP51\PLA\TECHBULL\TECHBUL7.DOC 4

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