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Geotechnical Engineering


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

Use of Review Checklists and Technical Guidelines

Review checklists have been prepared for review of geotechnical reports and review of the geotechnical aspects of preliminary plans, specification and estimate (PS&E)* packages. To simplify their use, the checklists are set up in a question and answer format. The geotechnical report checklists (pages 11 through 27) cover the important information that should be presented in project geotechnical reports. The PS&E review checklists (pages 28 through 33) cover the geotechnical aspects, ranging from assuring continuity between the project geotechnical report and contract documents to avoiding common claim pitfalls. Items that are identified with an asterisk (*) are considered to be of major importance. A response other than (yes) or (N/A) for any of these checklist questions is cause to contact the appropriate geotechnical engineer for a clarification and/or to discuss the project.

Groups of related questions and, in some cases, individual questions have been cross referenced to the "Soils and Foundations Workshop Manual"** so as to provide the generalist engineer user a reference on basic geotechnical items. Technical guidelines are presented in Tables 1 through 4. Since it is not possible to establish strict criteria for all geotechnical information that should be obtained or geotechnical analysis that should be performed for a particular project, only general or minimum guidelines can be established. Table 1 provides definitions of both major and unusual features and guidelines as to which projects may be appropriate for review by the FHWA geotechnical specialist. Table 2 presents guideline minimum boring, sampling, and testing criteria for subsurface investigations that should be conducted for major or unusual geotechnical features. Table 3 presents general guidelines on the major types of geotechnical engineering analyses that are normally required for embankments and cut slopes, structure foundations, and retaining structures. Guidance is given for all major soil types. Table 4 presents a list of technical support data that should be provided for correction of soil and rock instabilities (landslides). Due to the unique situation that landslides present in terms of a major expenditure of funds for rehabilitation, a concise and specific list of necessary support information is warranted.

The enclosed review checklists and technical guidelines cover the following geotechnical features:

  • Centerline Cuts and Embankments
  • Embankments Over Soft Ground
  • Landslide Corrections
  • Retaining Structures
  • Structure Foundations (spread footings, piles, drilled shafts)
  • Ground Improvement Techniques
  • Material Sites

Reviews made during the preliminary stage of project development will commonly consist of reviewing the geotechnical report only, since detailed plans and specifications may not yet be prepared.

When reviewing the PS&E, the plans, special provisions, and final geotechnical report should be examined together. A major aspect of the PS&E review of project geotechnical features is to verify that the major design and construction recommendations given in the geotechnical report have been properly incorporated into the plans and specifications. The practice of most highway agencies is to prepare a single geotechnical report that includes subsurface information, interpretations, and design and construction recommendations. However, some agencies prepare two separate reports; one report that only presents the factual subsurface data (made available to bidders), and a separate report or design memorandum (not made available to bidders) which contains the interpretation of subsurface conditions and the design and construction recommendations. These reports not only form the basis of technical reviews but should also be the agency's basis for design and construction of earthwork and foundation features.

The review checklists should be used as the working document while the guidelines in Tables 1 through 4, and the indicated sections of the "Soils and Foundations Workshop Manual" should be used as references. The checklist questions should be completed by referring to the geotechnical report and contract documents, the appropriate sections of the tables, and by use of engineering judgement. For each question, the reviewer should indicate a yes, no, or unknown or non-application response. Upon completion of the checklists, the reviewer should summarize the negative responses and discuss these with the appropriate geotechnical engineers to determine if additional follow-up is appropriate.

Seismic design of geotechnical features has not been considered in this document. For guidance the reader is referred to "Geotechnical Engineering Circular No. 3, Design Guidance: Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering for Highways, Volume I - Design Principles", FHWA SA-97-076. Seismic loads represent an extreme loading condition therefore relatively low factors of safety are generally considered acceptable in a pseudo-static analysis. Factors of safety on the order of 1.1 to 1.15 are typically used in practice for both bearing capacity and sliding resistance. The choice of the factor of safety and of the seismic coefficient are intimately linked. For instance, of a seismic coefficient equal to the PGA (divided by g) has been used in the pseudo-static analysis because the foundation cannot tolerate large movements, a factor of safety of 1.0 may be used. Alternatively, if the seismic coefficient is one-half the PGA and the soil is susceptible to a post-peak strength decrease, a factor of safety of 1.1 to 1.15 should be used.

* For the purposes of this document, PS&E refers to a plan and specification review at anytime during a project's development. Hence, the review may occur at a preliminary or partial stage of plan development.

** "Soils and Foundations Workshop Manual", Publication # FHWA NHI-00-045

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Updated: 02/20/2015

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration