Engineering Soil on a Road Project
Names: Date: Project: Subject: Lecturer: Course: Signed: Paddy Mc Cormack (A00133543) 24/1/’12 1 Highway Design Michael McLoughlin BEng (Hons) in Civil Engineering __________________________ __________________________


1. Introduction.......................................................................................3 2. Soil Classification and Composition...................................................3 3. The Origin of Irelands Soil.................................................................5 4. The Engineering Characteristics of Soil.............................................9 5. Important Soil Parameters and Testing...........................................11 6. Soil Stabilization..............................................................................16 7. Conclusion.......................................................................................18 8. Biliography......................................................................................19 Biliography


Soil Classification and Composition According to CA O’Flaherty. filling the voids between soil particles. appropriate soil would be an important factor. This air is 3 . Modifications may be incorporated or procedures undertaken to enhance its properties but with respect to the economical aspect of a project.1. 2. It is essential therefore that a highway engineer have a thorough knowledge of soils and their associated properties. Introduction It’s safe to say that soil is the foundation for all roads projects. construction and maintenance. soil deposits are not homogeneous and their characteristics and properties may vary significantly over short distances. soils must be dealt with in an efficient manner as they are encountered. and thus should be considered the primary engineering material with respect to road design. Air: In less consolidated soil air becomes a more influential component. However unlike steel and many other materials incorporated into design by engineers. Most authorities or developers are therefore required to appropriately identify and manage the physical properties of the soil when undertaking a roads project. be it in the shape of the original insitu subgrade material or replacement reworked material. Mineral Matter: This is the predominant characteristic in soil and can generally define the soil’s physical and chemical properties. Basically. In general it can be taken as consisting of five main components which are as follows: 1. As a result of this the soil types tend to have an important impact with respect to both selecting an appropriate route and the design of that route. It is normally dependent on the parent rock and consists of finite pieces of rocks broken down through weathering. 2. soil is any naturally occurring loose or soft deposit resulting from the weathering or breakdown of parent rock formations or from the decay of vegetation.

If it were possible to excavate to the bedrock and see a cross-section of the soil profile the soil could most often be clearly separated into three main horizons. 5. that is. Most organisms live in this horizon and thus it normally has a darker colour due to its high humus content. leaves. The process of leaching. In general this layer of soil is excavated due to its higher proportion of organic matter which is undesirable in engineering applications since the topsoil supports growth of trees and other vegetation and often does not have appropriate physical properties. Horizon B lies immediately beneath the A horizon and corresponds closely to the so-called “sub-soil”. grass and dead creatures. It is lighter in colour due to lower humus content. Water: Depending on the location. contains more parent rock particles and is protected from weathering. 3. Living Organisms: These help break down the dead plants and organic material and consist of many creatures ranging from earthworms and slugs to millions of micro-organisms. This water content can have a major influence with respect to the engineering capabilities of the soil and its physical properties as will be outlined in a following section. soil can have a varying water content. 4. When removed. nutrients and humus through the topsoil. Lying between both A and C it possesses some of the properties of both. usually defined by the letters “A”. often results in the accumulation of relatively high content of iron and aluminium oxides. humus or clay particles in this layer. topsoil usually is stockpiled and later restored onsite for landscaping or to support growth of vegetation to control erosion.essential for the biological aspect of the soil as it contains both the oxygen and nitrate to facilitate organisms in the soil. the washing of minerals. Often this 4 . The First horizon A is the uppermost layer of soil and is often referred to as topsoil. “B” and “C” (see Figure 1). A large amount of this material is undesirable in terms of engineering soils. Humus: This consists of decaying organic matter and is the remains of plants.

It is in effect the upper section of the loose and partially decayed rock or another material such as glacial deposits similar to that from which the soil has developed.Soil Profile (www. The C horizon however consists of a more geological material such as the parent rock.saburchill. one must first examine the geological aspect. The Origin of Irelands Soil It is evident that a soil’s composition and characteristics are strongly related to the local geology. It thus could be said that in general the combination of parent material and soil forming process defines a soil type. 5 . With this in mind. Figure 1 .com) 1. to understand the origin of Ireland’s soils.horizon may be subdivided with respect to the accumulation of these leached products.

which vary from very pure to impure shaley varieties (see Figure 3).The midlands of Ireland are most dominantly underlain by carboniferous limestones. In the northwest. whilst the easternmost part is more variable with sandstones. most of the area is underlain by a complex series of rocks comprising schists (metamorphosed from mudstones and muddy sandstones). West Galway and west Mayo are characterized by granite in the south and a combination of lower palaeozoic and late pre-cambrian metamorphic rocks north of this. 6 . siltstones and sandstones. The second consist of younger carboniferous rocks. and quartzites (from sandstones). shales and limestones during the hercynianera. These have been intruded by a series of granites during the caledonian era. predominantly shales. Within this large area there are two types of rock giving rise to pronounced topographic relief. The first and more frequent consist of lower palaeozoic shales and sandstones and old red sandstones (Note Figure 2 for Timeline). The south and south West are dominated by old red sandstone and some shales in the west.

such as particles of dust. rock fragments. intruded into Ireland from the North down an ‘east-west’ line running from the Shannon estuary to Arklow and also into the south eastern coastal area.000 to 10. When the glaciers retreated. The later glacial period.000 years ago). eskers and corries. large boulders. known as the midlandian general glaciation (75. This material was laid down unevenly varying in type and size.000 years ago) and enveloped the whole country. silt and clay were left behind. Ireland experienced at two glacial episodes which are important with respect to soil formation.000 to 130. Most evidence of the earlier glacial period north of this line was removed or covered by that of the second. Other features of glacial deposition include the outwash plains. sand. (D Boys) In lowland areas the main effect was the deposition of sheets of drift material. erratics and drumlins.Figure 2 -Simplified figure of the major geological eras. periods and epochs in their time frames (EPA) During the Pleistocene era. gravel. 7 . deposits composed of boulders. The older of the two was the munster general glaciation (200.

Offaly. well drained soil in some areas and badly drained soil in others. With respect to advantages in terms of highway engineering. this layer can be very thin in which case the underlying rocks can have a strong local impact on the composition of the soil. In some areas. Galway and Roscommon and there are very widespread thick deposits of glacial sands in the Curragh often greater than 70m.Deposits of boulder clay and old glacial lake beds have thus resulted in good quality. The boulder clay consists of a rich soil layer covering a rolling landscape. 8 . Also eskers are quite common in counties such as Kildare. eskers are commonly used for route construction and quarrying.

Figure 3 – Geological Maps of Ireland (EPA) 9 .

Nonetheless. Sand is mostly comprised of quartz particles and as a result relatively inactive chemically providing very little bond on this front. 10 . silt and clay in the mineral fraction less than 2mm in diameter. gradation and particle shape. Silt particles are often considered as the transitional between clays and sands. Detailed investigation may be required when working with silt materials as they can often be an unpredictable material. The process of liquefaction may sometimes occur where slight vibration could result in a “quicksand” like material undesirable in road design. it refers to the relative proportions of sand. With respect to their performance they are similar to sands deriving most of their strength from the mechanical interaction among the particles. Unlike clay its particles are normally bulky in shape and can be either angular or rounded depending on the degree of abrasion received before final deposition. soils are normally described with respect to the relative proportion of various size particles in the mineral fraction of a soil. thus its physical properties define its characteristics. With respect to road design the stability potential of a sandy soil is significantly influenced by compaction. Moisture content also has an effect upon the strength of a sandy soil.2. Also an important note is that in design clean particles of sand are often considered cohesionless and thus are undesirable with respect to embankments. As well as this due to the presence of large pores. More specifically. The Engineering Characteristics of Soil The inorganic soil particles or that most commonly found in the sub-soil or horizon B (see previous) are normally composed of primary mineral fragments often related to the underlying parent rock and the secondary minerals being products of weathering. Essentially these particles are finite sand particles with similar properties but an important change is that they also possess a small amount of cohesion due to the chemical action at the interparticle water films between the particles. sand is very permeable and susceptible to ground water contamination.

a soil sample may be defined as appropriate by determining each of its sand. 11 . An important note here is that the intensity of this physic-chemical phenomena is also associated with surface area thus clay minerals such as montmorillionite for example with expandable lattice structures may have a high exchange capacity. its shrinking and swelling characteristics. A clay fraction is essentially controlled by its microscopic or colloidal constitutes. and its ability to solidify into a hard mass upon drying. most importantly. or “cation exchange” is at the basis of the stabilisation of soils with certain chemical components. Physically they are commonly flat and elongated or “lamellar” and thus have a much larger surface area per mass then sand particles. A common form of defining soil is through the use of a texture classification chart. The exchange of positively charged ions.On a microscopic level particles in the clay fraction differ from those of sand and silt. As shown in figure 4. clay differs in its chemical makeup. Also. These colloids are in turn controlled by the electrical charges on their surface. Also this affects the permeability or hydraulic conductivity of the soil or clay. silt and clay percentages and using the chart. Therefore these colloidal particles are primarily responsible for the cohesiveness of a plastic soil.

Proper analysis of the soil is often undertaken through various tests and procedures to gain an in depth knowledge on the parameters involved in design.com) 3. The importance of securing sufficient and accurate data cannot be overemphasised. Important engineering parameters with respect to a road project or highway engineering include: 1. Shear 12 . It is normally defined in terms of unconfined compressive stress. there are many properties which must be investigated to ensure appropriate design and construction. Important Soil Parameters and Testing With respect to the design of highways. Soil Shear Strength(τ): Shear strength is a fundamental property of undisturbed cohesive soils and knowledge of this is necessary for the solving of many soil related problems.Figure 4 – Textural Classification Chart (lobaughsdahlias. These quantitative results from laboratory tests on the soil samples are necessary to analyze the soil conditions and thus affect an appropriate design on factual data. be it in foundation design or embankment construction.

It can be found by comparing the soils actual void ratio with the range in void ratio from loose to dense for that soil. Its importance intertwines with that of compaction and the concept of a maximum dry density and both water content air voids and material characteristics effect this parameter. 4. this can have an influential effect when it comes to drainage etc.strength is often considered negligible with respect to dry sands or gravels (cohesionless) but moisture can improve its performance also. On the other hand it is a major factor in terms of a clay type soil where its main characteristics are formed through its cohesion and chemical binding action (refer to Section 4). This is further outlined in section 5. This has a major effect on the properties of a soil as outlined throughout this report. 3. In effect it is the ability of a soil to maintain its strength when unconfined. 2. 1. that is. Density is as important for cohesionless soils as strength is for cohesive soils. Moisture Content (w): The Moisture content of a soil is the amount of liquid (water) per volume of mass of soil. moisture content is the ratio (expressed as a percentage) of 13 . By definition. 5. Permeability (k): This is concerned with a soils ability to allow the passage of liquid through its composition. This is most commonly calculated through either the triaxial or direct shear lab tests and a value obtained for the aid of design. to cling together and maintain its form through changes in moisture content. Density (γ): In effect density is the measure of mass per volume of a given soil. with respect to road design.2. Also referred to as the “hydraulic conductivity” (k). Cohesion(c): This characteristic is majorly related to strength and is the main characteristic in defining cohesive and cohesionless soils.1Moisture Content The moisture content of a soil (sometimes referred to as the water content) is an indicator of the amount of water present in the soil.

if too much water is added a lesser density will result. The curve is drawn with axes of dry density and water content and the controlling values of γd max (maximum dry density) 14 . for a given compactive effort.2The Proctor Test (Moisture-Density Relationship) Compaction is a very important factor when it comes to the design of highways. Thus the maximum dry density occurs at an optimum moisture content shown by the peak. If performed improperly on a roads project settlement could result in unnecessary maintenance costs or structural failure. It is nearly almost always necessary to compact a soil when working with it as a foundation material and this is generally done by mechanically increasing the density of the soil. The moisture content of a soil mass will have a major impact on its engineering capabilities. Also the associated dry density is referred to as the” maximum dry density”. This water effectively acts as a lubricant and allows the soil particles to be packed together better. Therefore.the weight of water in the sample to the weight of solids in the sample. In simple terms this is calculated by first weighing a sample of the soil in its insitu state and again weighing the sample after it has been oven dried to remove any moisture. Ww is the weight of water and Ws is the weight of the soil solids after being dried in an oven. However. As a general rule. shear stress and plasticity of a given soil 1. w is the moisture content. When a series of samples of soil are compacted at various moisture content values the plot usually shows a distinct peak. for example different percentages of water may affect the strength. dry soils can be best compacted if for each soil there is a specified amount of water added to it. It is written as follows: w= WwWs×100 Where. In the lab these parameters are most commonly calculated through the “standard proctor test”. there is a particular moisture content at which dry density is the greatest and compaction is best and this is called the “optimum moisture content”.

It is used in the design and construction of roads to assess the suitability of earthwork material in relation to the specified upper limits of moisture content.3The Moisture Condition Value (MCV) In simple terms The MCV is a measure of the minimum compactive effort required to produce near full compaction of a soil. Therefore the moisture condition value (MCV) is given by the intercept of this line and a special scale as shown below. Figure 5 – Moisture-Density Relationship (ejge.com) 1. 15 . The soil placed in a mould and compacted by blows from a rammer dropping from a height of 250 mm. The test is based on the determination of the minimum number of blows of a standard rammer required to result in a state of full compaction in a soil sample. and then the penetration after each blow is recorded. The change in penetration (∆p) is recorded between that for a given number of blows (n) and that for 4n blows. After calibration over a range of moisture contents the suitability of earthwork material can be assessed without the measurement of the moisture content of the soil with its associated delays. A graph is plotted of ∆p/n and a line drawn through the steepest section. (optimum water content) may be simply read off (see Figure 5).and wopt.

ac. The CBR for a soil is the ratio obtained by dividing the unit load required to cause a given piston to penetrate a standard distance into the soil by a standard unit load of 1000psi. This test is effectively a measure of the strength of the subsoil on which a road is to be constructed and a measure of it’s suitability for the intended purpose. The CBR may be thought of as an indicator to the strength relative to that of crushed rock and expressed in the following form: 16 . Although the method makes no attempt to incorporate any of the standard soil properties such as density.4The California Bearing Ratio Test (CBR) Arguably one of the most useful tests in relation to testing of a foundation soil in highway design is the California bearing ratio test.Figure 6 – Example Plot of MCV (environment. Its main function is to determine an appropriate thickness of capping layer required with respect to a flexible pavement.uk) 1. the value is an integral part of road design and is referenced in many design charts and calculations related to road foundations.uwe.

uk) 17 .Figure 7 –Typical CBR Design Chart (dur.ac.

Soil Stabilization A common problem with respect to road design and construction is the discovery of a soil which may not meet the requirements needed for use in either embankments or as a subgrade.2. calcium chloride and bitumen. the ultimate result is the creation of a material which will fulfil its purpose with respect to the end use conditions for the design life of the project. The process of improving the soil in order to meet the requirements is most commonly referred to as “stabilization”. and protection of the surface from erosion and moisture infiltration. for example where the soil is cohesionless. its deficiencies and the engineering requirements of a project. the mode of alteration or stabilization will vary. stabilisation includes compaction. adding a cementing or binding material or by some mechanical feature. However. This technique is often cost effective because the price of transportation and processing of a stabilizating agent or additive outlined below to treat an insitu soil will most probably be more economical than importing aggregate for the same thickness of support. Dependent on the soil. 2.1Chimerical Stabilisation A common way of improving the engineering properties of a soil is by adding chemicals or other materials to improve the exsisting soil. lime. drainage. flyash. In its broadest meaning. In most cases the objective is to provide additional strength. this could be provided in many fashions including confinement. be it due to undesirable strength. preconsolidation. The following are some common stabilization techniques undertaken with regard to roads projects. nowadays the term stabilization is not restricted to simply the aspect of alteration of the soil itself but more specifically the alteration by either chemical or mechanical means to result in an improved soil possessing the desired engineering properties. Regardless of the purpose for stabilization or its form. 18 . Additives include Portland cement. incompressibility or other characteristics.

Many additives are used in this process including traditional Portland cement. Typically this employs a heavy weight to increase soil density by applying pressure from above. This practise does not affect the soil in a sense but more influences the soil mass as a whole. as outlined previously. flyash and sodium silicate. ○ Moisture Holding Admixtures: As previously discussed moisture in the soil provides some cohesion in sands and silts. It is also common practise to incorporate this with some form of chemical stabilisation. Some mechanical stabilisation techniques are as follows: ○ Compaction: This method. To hold this moisture additives are commonly used in the soil. 19 .2 Mechanical Stabilisation This refers to either the compaction of the soil or the introduction of fibrous and other non-biodegradable reinforcement to the soil. 6. ○ Cementing: Wide varieties of cementing or binging agents are used in cementing and are arguably the most used form of soil stabilization. Compressibility is also decreased respectively forming a more desirable subgrade when used in road design. Also it prevents shrinkage and cracking of cohesive soils thus reducing surface degradation. The most predominant advantage is the increase in strength through cohesion but also there is a reduction in permeability of most soils by filling the voids with cementing agents.These additives are introduced by various machines and can be mixed or grouted into the soil depending on the required outcome. reduces air voids and is a common form of stabilization. affects the density. Salt is often used and is applied at a rate of approximately 15kg/m3 Calcium chloride is also used at a rate of 915kg/m3 is also very effective as it is able to take moisture from the air as well. Machines usually form this purpose such as rollers and vibrating plates. bitumous binders.

○ Soil Reinforcement: This often incorporates specially engineered mechanical solutions to enhance the soil. 1. a projects budget. Often undesirable soil types may be encountered and have a huge influence with respect to not only a projects progress but also. Physical properties. These can come in various shapes and forms and are commonplace in terms of use in the construction of highways. arguably most importantly. formations and engineering capabilities which are required at this stage must be appropriately determined and incorporated to result in a safer yet efficient outcome. Also with regard to the construction phase it is best practise to both monitor conditions on-site and ensure best practise to protect the well being of all involved and result in an appropriate finished project. embankment. this is a predominant factor with respect to road planning. Conclusion In conclusion. Geo-textiles and engineering plastic mesh or “geogrids” are designed to trap soils and help control moisture conditions erosion and permeability. the importance of a thorough understanding of the properties. design and construction. 20 . whether it be with foundation. drainage or any other influential area. characteristics and behaviour of influential soil formations is clear. It is thus detrimental to ensure detail investigation and analysis in both the planning and design stage. As stated previously.

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