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Geotechnical Engineering


Checklist and Guidelines for Review of Geotechnical
Reports and Preliminary Plans and Specifications

What is a Geotechnical Report?

The geotechnical report is the tool used to communicate the site conditions and design and construction recommendations to the roadway design, bridge design, and construction personnel. Site investigations for transportation projects have the objective of providing specific information on subsurface soil, rock, and water conditions. Interpretation of the site investigation information, by a geotechnical engineer, results in design and construction recommendations that should be presented in a project geotechnical report. The importance of preparing an adequate geotechnical report cannot be overstressed. The information contained in this report is referred to often during the design period, construction period, and frequently after completion of the project (resolving claims). Therefore, the report should be as clear, concise, and accurate. Both an adequate site investigation and a comprehensive geotechnical report are necessary to construct a safe, cost-effective project. Engineers need these reports to conduct an adequate review of geotechnical related features, e.g., earthwork and foundations.

The State or their consultant should prepare "Preliminary" geotechnical reports for submittal to the design team whenever this information will benefit the design process. Early submittal of geotechnical information and recommendations or engineering evaluation of preliminary data may be necessary to establish basic design concepts or design criteria. This is commonly the case on large projects or projects containing complex or difficult geotechnical problems where alignment and/or grade changes may be appropriate based on geotechnical recommendations. The development of a "Final" geotechnical report will not normally be completed until design has progressed to the point where specific recommendations can be made for all of the geotechnical aspects of the work. Final alignment, grade, and geometry will usually have been selected prior to issuance of the final geotechnical report.

While the geotechnical report content and format will vary by project size and highway agency, all geotechnical reports should contain certain basic essential information, including:

  • Summary of all subsurface exploration data, including subsurface soil profile, exploration logs, laboratory or in situ test results, and ground water information;
  • Interpretation and analysis of the subsurface data;
  • Specific engineering recommendations for design;
  • Discussion of conditions for solution of anticipated problems; and
  • Recommended geotechnical special provisions.

It is suggested that the State routinely include this minimum information in the geotechnical report for Federal-Aid highway projects and that a copy of this report be supplied to the FHWA division office at the time when the report is internally distributed in the State.

For brevity in this document, the term geotechnical report will be used as a general term to cover all types of geotechnical reports, e.g., foundation report, centerline soils report, landslide study report, etc.

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Updated: 02/20/2015

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration