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HIGHWAY CUT SLOPES IN ROCK:

SPECIALIZED EXCAVATION AND ENHANCEMENT TECHNIQUES


by
Robert A. Cummings, P.E.1
for presentation at the
rd
53 Highway Geology Symposium, San Luis Obispo, CA
August, 2002

INTRODUCTION

Highway development projects crossing lands with special scenic or recreational characteristics may be
required to meet special aesthetic criteria. Generally, the entity imposing the aesthetic criteria is external
to the core roadway construction team. Usually, agencies imposing these criteria are land
administration entities, external to highway departments, whose primary role is the preservation of
historical or recreational opportunities, such as the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park
Service, the United States Forest Service, or local governmental agencies with similar responsibilities.
However, agencies imposing aesthetic criteria may also be divisions of highway development agencies
themselves. For example, in Arizona, the Roadside Development section within the Arizona
Department of Transportation has defined aesthetic needs on numerous designated scenic highways.

Aesthetic attainment on highway jobs falls in the category of what many term “soft engineering”, whose
design is, in large part, intuitive. This contrasts strongly with the “hard engineering” elements (structures,
pavement, line and grade, and so forth) whose design is deterministic and more familiar to roadway
designers and builders.

From the perspective of the highway designer and constructor, the imposition of unfamiliar and
sometimes vague design and construction criteria, by external entities whose approach differs greatly
from that of engineers, can be problematic. The aim of this paper is to describe how geology,
construction engineering, and visual analysis have been used to alleviate and streamline the process of
aesthetic attainment.

“AESTHETICALLY PLEASING” CUT SLOPES

Developing Rational Criteria

For rock cut slopes, aesthetic criteria have often been expressed in contract documents and
environmental assessments using language such as:
“blend with the natural terrain”
“reflect the form, line, color, and texture of natural formations”
“natural-appearing cut slopes”
“roughened cut slopes”

1
President, Saguaro GeoServices, Inc., P.O. Box 44154, Tucson, AZ 85733 www.saguarogeo.com