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TMC – Tinni Management Consulting Issue

Edited by Arvo Tinni. Email 30 10 2015

Equivalent and Effective Subgrade Strength and

its Effect on Base Thickness

Concrete and Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC) pavement design is unique in

that it starts with the calculation/determination of the Equivalent Subgrade
Strength of 1 m of subgrade below the subbase level. This is subsequently
further adjusted to take in account the type and thickness of subbase provided.
The strength parameter used in Australia and many other countries is the
California Bearing Ratio (CBR). In others, the Modulus of Subgrade Reaction (k)
is used. This is calculated from the Plate Bearing Test results.

The CBR Test

CBR is a simple penetration test for evaluation of the mechanical strength
of the subgrade and base course materials. The test is performed by
measuring the pressure required to penetrate a soil sample with a plunger
of standard area. The measured pressure is then divided by the pressure
required to achieve an equal penetration on a standard crushed rock
material. The result is a measure of the load bearing capacity of the
particular soil.

Determination of Equivalent Subgrade Strength

First, the 1 m slice of subgrade is divided into layers exhibiting different

CBR values. The equivalent CBR strength of the slice is then calculated
using the Japan Road Association, 1989 formula:

CBRE = [∑hi CBRi0.333/∑hi]3

Where CBRi is the CBR value in ith layer

hi is the thickness of the ith layer, and
∑hi is taken to a depth of 1 m


Assume that the subgrade is made up as follows:

150 mm CBR >15% material which has 2% cement modification

150 mm CBR >10% material (imported)
700 mm CBR 3% in-situ material
Substituting these in the formula:

CBRE = [0.15 3√15 + 0.15 3√10 + 0.70 3√3]3 (∑hi = 1)

= [0.370 + 0.323 + 1.01]
= 1.7033
= 4.94%, say 5%

Therefore, for design, the equivalent subgrade strength will be taken as

CBR 5%

Determination of Effective Subgrade Strength

Suitable graphs are available showing the Effective Subgrade Strength for
the various Equivalent Subgrade strengths based on the subbase types
and thicknesses. From experience over the last 20 years, 150 mm
subbase thickness has been adopted as a practical thickness as the norm
for both Lean Mix Concrete and stabilised materials.

Equivalent Effective Subgrade Strength Effective Subgrade Strength

Subgrade using 150 mm of 5 MPa Lean using 150 mm of 5 MPa
Strength (CBR) Mix Concrete stabilised material
2 25 14
3 40 20
4 56 27
5 75 35
6 75 43
7 75 50
8 75 56
10 75 70
12 75 75

1 CBR 75% is the maximum permitted value for Effective Subgrade Strength.
2 For the formula to hold, the maximum permissible Equivalent Subgrade Strength is CBR 12%

This means:

For the 5 MPa LMC subbase:

 The Effective Subgrade Strength will not increase after CBR 75%.
 This occurs when the Equivalent Subgrade Strength reaches CBR5%
 The concrete base thickness will be constant after the Equivalent
Subgrade Strength of CBR 5% is reached.

For 5 MPa stabilised subbase:

 The Effective Subgrade Strength will not increase after CBR 75%.
 This occurs when the Equivalent Subgrade Strength reaches CBR
 The concrete base thickness is constant after the Equivalent
Subgrade Strength of CBR 12% is reached.


For comparison of effect of LMC and Stabilised subbase on base


Traffic – 1.5e8 HVAG
Rural axle distribution
Flex strength – 4.5 MPa
Concrete shoulders

Equivalent LMC Effective Base Stabilised Base

Subgrade Subgrade thickness Effective thickness
Strength CBR Strength CBR mm Subgrade mm
Strength CBR
3 40 261 20 282
5 75 246 45 267
12 75 246 75 249

 Hence, even for identical Equivalent Subgrade Strength, the base

thickness requirement using a stabilised subbase is slightly more
than with LMC. The difference is even greater in poor subgrades
when the requirements are rounded off.

Correlation of CBR with Modulus of Subgrade Reaction (k)

I am not sure whether the Japanese formula, as it stands, also works for
“k” values, even though there is a correlation between CBR % and the k
value. I will provide this hereunder.

If there is a need for determination of the subgrade strength with only k

values available, it may be safer to change these to CBR, do the
calculations and then change the Equivalent Strength back to k. The table
provides approximate equivalencies.

CBR% Modulus of Subgrade

reaction k
3 50
4 65
5 80
6 100
7 120
8 135
9 140
10 145
11 150
12 160
13 170

14 175
15 189
16 190
17 200
20 210
28 250
39 300
62 400