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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / August 2004

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-04-028
Date: August 2004

Geotech & Hydraulics Team: Advancing the State of the Art

From high-profile projects such as Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel to the everyday design and construction of bridges and pavements, geotechnical and hydraulics engineering has a critical role to play in maintaining the Nation's highway infrastructure. The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) new Geotechnical and Hydraulics Technical Service team brings together specialists from throughout the agency to provide guidance and assistance to State and local highway agencies and others. "The team structure allows us to pool our resources, work together across the agency, and move forward more rapidly in advancing geotech and hydraulics technology," says team leader Peter Osborn.

Hydraulics focus areas for the team include scour technology, bridge hydraulics, culvert hydraulics, highway drainage, and hydrology. To ensure the safety of the nation's constructed highway facilities, the team is actively assisting State highway agencies in the development of scour plans of action for scour critical bridges. The team also continues to lead the nation in the development of advanced engineering applications for hydraulics and hydrology. In addition, team members are working with researchers and industry to develop improved methods to determine the type and depth of unknown bridge foundations. The team will also be hosting the first National Hydraulic Engineering Conference, which will be held August 31-September 3 in Asheville, North Carolina. Conference topics will include hydrology, coastal engineering, and scour.

Thirteen hydraulics-related training courses are offered through FHWA's National Highway Institute (NHI), including River Engineering for Highway Encroachments and Urban Drainage Design. Additional courses that the team is developing include one on Tidal Hydrology, Hydraulics, and Scour at Bridges.

In the Geotechnical area, the team is promoting a new technology, EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) Geofoam. This is a lightweight embankment fill material that can be used when building embankments on Soft or loose soils that are incapable of supporting increased loads. It is a rigid foam plastic that is as much as 100 times less dense than Soil, reducing vertical stress on the soil. "We're seeing a lot of interest from States in using EPS Geofoam," says Osborn.

The team is also compiling information on design, construction, and quality control measures for auger cast piling, a type of deep foundation System. Auger cast piling offers a foundation Solution that can be constructed quickly and at a relatively low cost. Due to uncertainties in the quality of the constructed element, however, to date the highway community has been hesitant to use the technology. The FHWA team is looking into recent advances in quality control systems for auger cast piling and will publish design and construction guidelines for the technology in an upcoming new Geotechnical Engineering Circular.

Other areas of involvement include working with FHWA's Office of Bridge technology and Federal Lands Highway Division offices to develop a workshop on Geophysics. Geophysical methods can be used to complement subsurface investigations and determine, for example, the location of voids under a roadway or such problems as abandoned mines. "Geophysical methods allow us to get an idea of what's below the ground without having to pull up a sample," says Osborn.

The team has collaborated with the transportation curriculum Coordination council (TCCC) on two geotechnical courses on inspection of driven pile foundations and drilled shaft foundations. The TCCC is a pooled-fund effort involving States, FHWA, the american Association of State Highway and transportation Officials (AASHTO), and industry groups. Two additional TCCC courses on inspection of mechanically stabilized earth walls and reinforced soil slopes and subsurface investigation inspection are now under development.

An additional area of interest is managing geotechnical data. The team recently participated in an international symposium on the topic held in Los Angeles and will continue to work with State and industry partners to realize the goal of developing a nationwide data management system.

The team's collaborations across the agency include working with FHWA and AASHTO's Accelerated Construction Technology Transfer (ACTT) program to minimize the impact of highway construction on motorists and adjacent communities. As more than 50 percent of construction change orders result from problems with geotechnical features, the participation of geotechnical engineers in project planning from the outset is crucial in accelerating highway projects.

Another important role of the team is that, upon request, it can conduct reviews of State Geotech and Hydraulics programs. The reviews take 1 to 2 weeks to perform, and then the team provides the State with a comprehensive evaluation report. "In addition to assisting States, it helps us to identify exemplary practices nationwide and keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening in the areas of geotech and hydraulics," says Osborn.

To learn more about the many resources the team offers, visit https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/resourcecenter/teams/geotech/index.cfm. For assistance, contact one of the team members listed in the sidebar below or Peter Osborn at 410-962-0702 (fax: 410-962-3655; email: peter.osborn@fhwa.dot.gov). For more information on the national Hydraulic Engineering Conference, contact Cynthia Nurmi at FHWA, 404-562-3908 (email: cynthia.nurmi@fhwa.dot.gov).

Geotech and Hydraulics Team

Peter Osborn, Team Leader, 410-962-0702 (fax: 410-962-4586; email: peter.osborn@fhwa.dot.gov)

Atlanta, Georgia

Cynthia Nurmi, Hydraulic Engineer, 404-562-3908 (fax: 404-562-3700; email: cynthia.nurmi@fhwa.dot.gov)

Benjamin Rivers, Geotechnical Engineer, 404-562-3926 (fax: 404-562-3700; email: benjamin.rivers@fhwa.dot.gov)

Baltimore, Maryland

Chris Dumas, Geotechnical Engineer, 410-962-0096 (fax: 410-962-4586; email: chris.dumas@fhwa.dot.gov)

Silas Nichols, Geotechnical Engineer, 410-962-2460 (fax: 410-962-4586; email: silas.nichols@fhwa.dot.gov)

Lakewood, Colorado

Larry Arneson, Hydraulic Engineer, 720-963-3200 (fax: 720-963-3211; email: larry.arneson@fhwa.dot.gov)

Barry Siel, Geotechnical Engineer, 720-963-3208 (fax: 720-963-3211; email: barry.siel@fhwa.dot.gov)

Olympia Fields, Illinois

Dan Ghere, Hydraulic Engineer, 708-283-3557 (fax: 708-283-3501; email: dan.ghere@fhwa.dot.gov)

Sam Mansukhani, Geotechnical Engineer, 708-283-3550 (fax: 708-283-3501; email: sam.mansukhani@fhwa.dot.gov)

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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