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Rock Nail Design Guidelines for Roadway Cuts in Central Texas

The objective of this project was to develop a rational design procedure for road cuts in the soft rocks of central Texas. Design recommendations were developed based on a systematic program of observation, documentation and analysis gf 53 existing rock cuts. A comprehensive field reconnaissance was conducted, and the behavior and characteristics of the rocks in natural and man-made exposures were observed and documented. The rock units in this study included primarily the Cretaceous-age sedimentary rocks that outcrop in a broad band from west of San Antonio through Austin, Waco and Dallas. The lithologies ranged from limestones and dolostones of varying purity, through clay-rich marls and clay shales. Observations included exposure geometry, rock mass quality, impact of weathering, and potential failure modes. Rock cores were also obtained and laboratory tests were conducted on core samples and grab samples from exposures. In addition, the performance of existing excavations and design procedures was evaluated. Performance information that was collected and analyzed included qualitative descriptions of stability, quantitative information on maintenance frequency and effort, and quantitative information on catchment adequacy. The performance data were analyzed to identrfy the most important factors affecting the performance of the studied rock cuts. The dominant mode of failure was localized raveling and differential erosion. This failure mechanism was particularly dominant in the Glen Rose Formation and the Austin Chalk. Raveling of loose blocks was also observed in the Edwards Formation where paleokarst and recent (in geologic time) solutioning has created cavities and fractures. The block sizes in both instances tended to be comparable in dimension to the bedding thickness, on the order of 0.5 m. Increased weathering and block fallout were associated with groundwater seepage from the cut or overland run-off flowing down the cut surface. Large-scale planar or wedge failures due to continuous, steeply dipping discontinuities were observed in only 3 of the 53 road cuts studied. In all cases, these failures were associated with faulted zones within the Glen Rose Formation, although similar conditions exist within the Austin Chalk and to a lesser extent within the Edwards Formation. Conventional information from borings provided limited information in predicting the performance of studied rock cuts. The quality of the rock core (i.e., the rock quality designation, RQD) did not correlate well with stability. While high RQD values are generally associated with good performance, low RQD values are not necessarily associated with poor performance. For example, the Edwards Formation generally had the lowest core quality, yet the slopes performed the best because the rock matrix in solution collapse zones fractured readily when cored but was cemented in situ. Stratigraphic information from borings, such as the presence of thick marly layers, was the most valuable type of information. It was found that differences in slake durabiity of greater than 20 to 30 percent between individual layers within a slope indicated a high potential for differential erosion. However, the absolute magnitude of slake durability, or other related properties such as unconfined compressive strength, were not effective indicators of this failure mode.

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