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Site Investigation Manual 2013


The road network in Ethiopia provides the dominant mode of freight and passenger
transport and thus plays a vital role in the economy of the country. The network comprises
a huge national asset that requires adherence to appropriate standards for design,
construction and maintenance in order to provide a high level of service. As the length of
the road network is increasing, appropriate choice of methods to preserve this investment
becomes increasingly important.
In 2002, the Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA) first brought out road design manuals to
provide a standardized approach for the design, construction and maintenance of roads in
the country. Due to technological development and change, these manuals require periodic
updating. This current version of the manual has particular reference to the prevailing
conditions in Ethiopia and reflects the experience gained through activities within the road
sector during the last 10 years. Completion of the review and updating of the manuals was
undertaken in close consultation with the federal and regional roads authorities and the
stakeholders in the road sector including the contracting and consulting industry.
Most importantly, in supporting the preparation of the documents, a series of thematic peer
review panels were established that comprised local experts from the public and private
sector who provided guidance and review for the project team.
This Manual supersedes the Site Investigation Manual part of the ERA Design Manuals of
2002. The procedures set out shall be adhered to unless otherwise directed by the
concerned bodies within ERA. However, I should emphasize that careful consideration to
sound engineering practice shall be observed in the use of the manual, and under no
circumstances shall the manual waive professional judgment in applied engineering. For
simplification in reference this manual may be cited as ERAs Site Investigation Manual 2013.
On behalf of the Ethiopian Roads Authority I would like to take this opportunity to thank
DFID, Crown Agents and the AFCAP team for their cooperation, contribution and support
in the development of the manual and supporting documents for Ethiopia. I would also like
to extend my gratitude and appreciation to all of the industry stakeholders and participants
who contributed their time, knowledge and effort during the development of the
documents. Special thanks are extended to the members of the various Peer Review Panels
whose active support and involvement guided the authors of the manual and the process.
It is my sincere hope that this manual will provide all users with both a standard reference
and a ready source of good practice for the design of roads, and will assist in a cost
effective operation, and environmentally sustainable development of our road network.
I look forward to the practices contained in this manual being quickly adopted into our
operations, thereby making a sustainable contribution to the improved infrastructure of our
Comments and suggestions on all aspects from any concerned body, group or individual as
feedback during its implementation is expected and will be highly appreciated.
Addis Ababa, 2013
Zaid Wolde Gebriel
Director General, Ethiopian Roads Authority
Ethiopian Roads Authority

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Site Investigation Manual 2013

The Ethiopian Roads Authority is the custodian of the series of technical manuals, standard
specifications and bidding documents that are written for the practicing engineer in
Ethiopia. The series describe current and recommended practice and set out the national
standards for roads and bridges. They are based on national experience and international
practice and are approved by the Director General of the Ethiopian Roads Authority.
This Site Investigation Manual -2013 forms part of the Ethiopian Roads Authority series of
Road and Bridge Design documents. The complete series of documents, covering all roads
and bridges in Ethiopia, are contained within the series:
1. Geometric Design Manual
2. Site Investigation Manual
3. Geotechnical Design Manual
4. Route Selection Manual
5. Pavement Design Manual Volume I Flexible Pavements
6. Pavement Design Manual Volume II Rigid Pavements
7. Pavement Rehabilitation and Asphalt Overlay Design Manual
8. Drainage Design Manual
9. Bridge Design Manual
10. Low Volume Roads Design Manual
11. Standard Environmental Procedures Manual
12. Standard Technical Specifications
13. Standard Detailed Drawings
14. Standard Bidding Documents for Road Work Contracts A series of Bidding
Documents covering a full range from large scale projects unlimited in value to minor
works with an upper threshold of $300,000. The higher level documents have both
Local Competitive Bidding and International Competitive Bidding versions
These documents are available to registered users through the ERA website:
Manual Updates
Significant changes to criteria, procedures or any other relevant issues related to new
policies or revised laws of the land or that is mandated by the relevant Federal Government
Ministry or Agency should be incorporated into the manual from their date of
Other minor changes that will not significantly affect the whole nature of the manual may
be accumulated and made periodically. When changes are made and approved, new
page(s) incorporating the revision, together with the revision date, will be issued and
inserted into the relevant chapter.
All suggestions to improve the draft manual should be made in accordance with the
following procedures:

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1. Users of the manual must register on the ERA website:

2. Proposed changes should be outlined on the Manual Change Form and forwarded with
a covering letter of its need and purpose to the Director General of the Ethiopian Roads
3. Agreed changes will be approved by the Director General of the Ethiopian Roads
Authority on recommendation from the Deputy Director General (Engineering
4. The release date will be notified to all registered users and authorities.

Addis Ababa, 2013

Zaid Wolde Gebriel

Director General, Ethiopian Roads Authority

Ethiopian Roads Authority

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Site Investigation Manual 2013



This area to be completed by the ERA

Director of Quality Assurance

Manual Title:____________________________

CHANGE NO._____________





Suggested Modification

Submitted by:
Company/Organisation Address
Manual Change Action



Recommended Action


Director Quality Assurance
Deputy Director General Eng.Ops

Approval / Provisional Approval / Rejection of Change:

Director General ERA:__________________________________ Date: __________________

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The Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA) wishes to thank the UK Governments Department
for International Development (DFID) through their Africa Community Access
Programme (AFCAP) for their support in developing this Site Investigation Manual
2013. The manual will be used by all authorities and organisations responsible for the
provision of roads in Ethiopia.
This Site Investigation Manual-2013 is based on a review of local and international
procedures and is based largely on ERAs Site Investigation Manual 2002 but includes
improvements and extensions to deal with topics that were not included in the earlier
manual. This manual also contains relevant parts of ERAs Low Volume Roads Design
From the outset, the approach to the development of the manual was to include all sectors
and stakeholders in Ethiopia. The input from the international team of experts was
supplemented by our own extensive local experience and expertise. Local knowledge and
experience was shared through review workshops to discuss and debate the contents of the
draft manual. ERA wishes to thank all the individuals who gave their time to attend the
workshops and provide valuable inputs to the compilation of the manual.
In addition to the workshops, Peer Review Groups comprising specialists drawn from
within the local industry were established to provide advice and comments in their
respective areas of expertise. The contribution of the Peer Group participants is gratefully
The final review and acceptance of the document was undertaken by an Executive Review
Group. Special thanks are given to this group for their assistance in reviewing the final
draft of the document.
Finally, ERA would like to thank Crown Agents for their overall management of the
As with the other manuals of this series, the intent was, where possible, and in the interests
of uniformity, to use those tests and specifications included in the AASHTO and/or ASTM
Materials references. Where no such reference exists for tests and specifications mentioned
in this document, other references are used.

Executive Review Group




Amare Assefa, Ato

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Daniel Nebro, Ato

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Ethiopian Roads Authority

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Site Investigation Manual 2013

List of Persons Contributing to Peer Group Review




Abebe Asefa, Ato

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Alemayehu Ayele, Ato

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Asnake Haile, Ato

OMEGA Consulting Engineers

Asrat Sewit, Ato

Saba Engineering

Colin Gourley, Dr.


Daniel Nebro, Ato

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Efrem Degefu, Ato

BEACON Consulting Engineers

Fikert Arega, W/ro

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Muse Belew, Ato

Ethiopian Roads Authority


Shimelis Tesfaye, Ato

Spice Consult


Tewodros Alene, Ato

Ethiopian Roads Authority


Zerihun Nuru, Ato

Gondwana Engineering

Project Team




Bekele Negussie


AFCAP Coordinator for


Abdo Mohammed


Project Coordinator

Frew Bekele


Project Coordinator

Lulseged Ayalew

AFCAP/Crown Agents

Lead Author

Robert Geddes

AFCAP/Crown Agents

Technical Manager

Les Sampson

AFCAP/Crown Agents

Technical Director

Addis Ababa, 2013

Zaid Wolde Gebriel
Director General, Ethiopian Roads Authority

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Table of Contents

FOREWORD........................................................................................................................ I
PREFACE .......................................................................................................................... II
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ..................................................................................................... V
TABLE OF CONTENTS ..................................................................................................... VII
LIST OF FIGURES ............................................................................................................. XI
LIST OF TABLES.............................................................................................................. XII
GLOSSARY OF TERMS .................................................................................................... XIV
ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS................................................................................XVIII

INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................... 1-1

1.1 Background and Context .................................................................................. 1-1
1.2 Objectives ........................................................................................................ 1-2
1.3 Scope ............................................................................................................... 1-3
1.4 Stages of Site Investigation ............................................................................... 1-3
1.5 Approach.......................................................................................................... 1-4
1.6 Manual Structure .............................................................................................. 1-4
1.7 Types of road projects ...................................................................................... 1-6
New Construction ................................................................................... 1-6
Rehabilitation ......................................................................................... 1-7
Reconstruction (including upgrading) ..................................................... 1-7
1.8 The Site Investigation Team ............................................................................. 1-8
1.9 Other Factors .................................................................................................... 1-8
Health, Safety and the Environment ........................................................ 1-8
Site Access .............................................................................................. 1-8
Presence of Existing Services .................................................................. 1-8
Security................................................................................................... 1-9
Socio-political considerations ................................................................. 1-9
Proximity to Existing Roads and Waterways ........................................... 1-9


2.1 Introduction ...................................................................................................... 2-1
2.2 Physiography and landform .............................................................................. 2-1
2.3 Climate ............................................................................................................. 2-3
Climatic Zones ........................................................................................ 2-3
Climatic Indices ...................................................................................... 2-5
2.4 Geology............................................................................................................ 2-6
2.5 Soil type and distribution .................................................................................. 2-8
2.6 Land cover and land use ................................................................................. 2-12

INVESTIGATION METHODS AND TECHNIQUES ....................................................... 3-1


Introduction ...................................................................................................... 3-1

Topographic and thematic maps ....................................................................... 3-2
Remote Sensing ................................................................................................ 3-2
Geophysical methods........................................................................................ 3-4
Seismic refraction ............................................................................................. 3-6

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3.6 Electrical resistivity........................................................................................... 3-7

3.7 Pits and Trenches .............................................................................................. 3-7
3.8 Boring ............................................................................................................... 3-9
3 .8.1
Auger boring ......................................................................................... 3-11
3 .8.2
Wash type boring................................................................................... 3-12
3 .8.3
Rotary wash boring ............................................................................... 3-12
3 .8.4
Drilling in rock...................................................................................... 3-12
3.9 Pit, Trench and Boring Logs ........................................................................... 3-13
3.10 Sampling......................................................................................................... 3-15
3.11 In-situ tests...................................................................................................... 3-17

SOIL AND ROCK DESCRIPTION AND CLASSIFICATION ............................................ 4-1

4.1 Introduction ...................................................................................................... 4-1
4.2 Soil description ................................................................................................. 4-1
4.3 Coarse grained soils .......................................................................................... 4-2
4.4 Fine grained soils .............................................................................................. 4-2
4.5 Soil classification .............................................................................................. 4-5
4.6 Engineering characteristics of soils ................................................................... 4-9
4 .6.1
Coarse grained soils ................................................................................ 4-9
4 .6.2
Fine grained soils .................................................................................. 4-10
4.7 Rock ............................................................................................................... 4-10
4 .7.1
Description............................................................................................ 4-10
4 .7.2
Rock name ............................................................................................. 4-11
4 .7.3
Lithological descriptions ....................................................................... 4-11
4 .7.4
Rock colour ........................................................................................... 4-14
4 .7.5
Bedding ................................................................................................. 4-14
4 .7.6
Weathering ............................................................................................ 4-15
4 .7.7
Rock strength......................................................................................... 4-16
4 .7.8
Rock discontinuity ................................................................................. 4-17

SITE INVESTIGATION STAGES................................................................................. 5-1

5.1 Introduction ...................................................................................................... 5-1
5.2 Desk study ........................................................................................................ 5-1
5 .2.1
Identifying sources of information ........................................................... 5-1
5 .2.2
Reviewing available information ............................................................. 5-3
5.3 Reconnaissance survey...................................................................................... 5-5
5.4 Preliminary site investigation ............................................................................ 5-5
5.5 Final site investigation ...................................................................................... 5-6

DESIGN DATA SURVEYS.......................................................................................... 6-1

6.1 Introduction ...................................................................................................... 6-1
6.2 Sub-grade characterization ................................................................................ 6-2
6 .2.1
Location and spacing of test pits and borings .......................................... 6-2
6 .2.2
Depth of test pits and boreholes ............................................................... 6-5
6 .2.3
Laboratory testing ................................................................................... 6-5
6 .2.4
Subsurface profile ................................................................................... 6-8
6.3 Road Cuts and Embankments ............................................................................ 6-9
6 .3.1
Road cuts .............................................................................................. 6-10
6 .3.2
Embankments ........................................................................................ 6-13
6.4 River crossings................................................................................................ 6-16
6 .4.1
Bridges .................................................................................................. 6-17

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Table of Contents

Subsurface investigation ....................................................................... 6-17

Footings................................................................................................ 6-21
Driven Piles .......................................................................................... 6-21
Drilled Shafts ........................................................................................ 6-22
Potential scour depth ............................................................................ 6-24
Inspection of existing bridges ................................................................ 6-24
Culverts ................................................................................................ 6-25
Low water crossings ............................................................................. 6-26

SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS ..................................................................................... 7-1

7.1 Introduction ...................................................................................................... 7-1
7.2 Landslides ........................................................................................................ 7-1
Types of landslides .................................................................................. 7-2
Depths of landslides ................................................................................ 7-4
The role of groundwater.......................................................................... 7-5
Landslide mapping .................................................................................. 7-6
Exploration and sampling ....................................................................... 7-7
Monitoring .............................................................................................. 7-9
7.3 Expansive soils ............................................................................................... 7-10
Identification......................................................................................... 7-11
Laboratory tests .................................................................................... 7-14
7.4 Collapsible soils ............................................................................................. 7-14
Identification......................................................................................... 7-15
Strength ................................................................................................ 7-15
Collapse potential ................................................................................. 7-16
7.5 Dispersive soils .............................................................................................. 7-17
Laboratory tests .................................................................................... 7-18
Field identification................................................................................ 7-19
7.6 Colluvial soils................................................................................................. 7-20
Exploration techniques ......................................................................... 7-21
Engineering characteristics .................................................................. 7-22
7.7 Lateritic soils .................................................................................................. 7-23
Identification......................................................................................... 7-23
Special properties ................................................................................. 7-24
7.8 Saline soils ..................................................................................................... 7-25
7.9 Degradable rocks ............................................................................................ 7-26
7.10 Groundwater................................................................................................... 7-28
7.11 Wetlands ........................................................................................................ 7-32
7.12 Disposal sites .................................................................................................. 7-33

CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL SURVEYS ................................................................... 8-1

8.1 Introduction ...................................................................................................... 8-1
8.2 Investigation procedures ................................................................................... 8-1
Aerial photographs ................................................................................. 8-3
Pits and borings ...................................................................................... 8-4
8.3 Material types ................................................................................................... 8-5
Common Fill ........................................................................................... 8-5
Sub-grade and capping layer .................................................................. 8-6
Unbound granular pavement materials ................................................... 8-6
Bitumen-Bound Granular Layers and Surfacing Aggregates ................... 8-7

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8.4 Sources of materials .......................................................................................... 8-8

8 .4.1
Borrow pits ............................................................................................. 8-9
8 .4.2
Quarry materials ................................................................................... 8-10
8.5 Laboratory tests............................................................................................... 8-11
8 .5.1
Basic engineering tests .......................................................................... 8-11
8 .5.2
Aggregate tests ...................................................................................... 8-14
8 .5.3
Chemical and petrographic tests ........................................................... 8-17
8.6 Sampling......................................................................................................... 8-17
8.7 The Geological Background ............................................................................ 8-18
8 .7.1
Sedimentary rocks ................................................................................. 8-19
8 .7.2
Volcanic rocks ....................................................................................... 8-20
8 .7.3
Plutonic rocks ....................................................................................... 8-20
8 .7.4
Pyroclastic rocks ................................................................................... 8-21
8 .7.5
Metamorphic rocks ................................................................................ 8-21
8.8 The influence of weathering ............................................................................ 8-22
8.9 Local sources of rocks and soils ...................................................................... 8-25
8.10 Sources of sand ............................................................................................... 8-25
8.11 Sources of water.............................................................................................. 8-25

CONSTRUCTION REVIEW........................................................................................ 9-1


Introduction ...................................................................................................... 9-1

Subgrade conditions .......................................................................................... 9-1
Road cuts .......................................................................................................... 9-3
Embankments ................................................................................................... 9-4
River crossings.................................................................................................. 9-5
Landslides ......................................................................................................... 9-6
Retaining walls ................................................................................................. 9-7
Construction materials ...................................................................................... 9-7
Pavement condition survey................................................................................ 9-9

10 REPORTS AND CHECKLISTS.................................................................................. 10-1

10.1 Introduction .................................................................................................... 10-1
10.2 Reports ........................................................................................................... 10-1
10.2.1 The site investigation report .................................................................. 10-1
10.2.2 Soil and materials report ....................................................................... 10-5
10.3 Checklists ....................................................................................................... 10-6
11 REFERENCES ........................................................................................................ 11-1

THE DYNAMIC CONE PENETROMETER (DCP) TEST............................... 1






COMMON SOIL LABORATORY TESTS ..................................................... 1

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List of Tables

Figure 1.1: Phased Approach to Site Investigation (Geotechnical aspects) ...................... 1-5
Figure 2.1: Physiographic regions of Ethiopia ................................................................ 2-2
Figure 2.2: Traditional climatic zones in Ethiopia. ......................................................... 2-4
Figure 2.3: Rainfall distribution of Ethiopia. .................................................................. 2-5
Figure 2.4: Generalized geological map of Ethiopia. ...................................................... 2-7
Figure 2.5: Agricultural soil map of Ethiopia. ................................................................ 2-8
Figure 2.6: Land cover and land use map of Ethiopia. .................................................. 2-13
Figure 3.1: Illustration of the Geophysical Seismic Refraction Method. ......................... 3-6
Figure 3.2: The Basic Installation of Electrical Resistivity Apparatus............................. 3-7
Figure 4.1: The Unified Soil Classification System (USCS). .......................................... 4-7
Figure 6.1: Different Options of Sub-grade Locations .................................................... 6-3
Figure 6.2: Illustrations of Instability and Settlements Concerns in Embankments........ 6-13
Figure 6.3: An example of a subsurface profile at a bridge site. .................................... 6-20
Figure 7.1: Schematic Illustrations of Slope Failure - Fall and Topple. ........................... 7-2
Figure 7.2: Rotational (slump) and Translational (planar) Landslides. ............................ 7-3
Figure 7.3: Examples of flow and creep. ........................................................................ 7-4
Figure 7.4: Landslides Related to a Perched Water Table ............................................... 7-5
Figure 7.5: Illustration of Borehole Locations to Investigate a Failed Slope.................... 7-9
Figure 7.6: Distribution of Survey Stakes and Inclinometers in a Landslide.................. 7-10
Figure 7.7: Red Clays with Significant Plasticity around Bako in Wellega. .................. 7-12
Figure 7.8: Classification Chart for Swelling Potential (after Seed et al, 1962) ............. 7-13
Figure 7.9: Guide to Collapsibility and Expansion........................................................ 7-13
Figure 7.10: Collapse holes near Shashemene .............................................................. 7-15
Figure 7.11: Erosion Gulies at Roadcuts in the Rift Valley near Arsi Negele. ............... 7-18
Figure 7.12: Test for the Dispersive Nature of Soils. .................................................... 7-20
Figure 7.13: Colluvium from Basalt and Volcanoclastic Rocks - Blue Nile basin ......... 7-21
Figure 7.14: Nodular Laterite - Assossa-Kurmuk Road Project. ................................... 7-24
Figure 7.15: Salt Deposits in the Dallol Depression (Northern Afar region).................. 7-26
Figure 7.16.: Degradable Shale Underlying a Sandstone Layer - Road Cut near Kulbi. 7-27
Figure 7.17: Illustration of the Movement and Occurrence of Groundwater Near Roadways
............................................................................................................................. 7-30
Figure 8.1: The Relative Engineering and Excavation Concerns for Different Rocks.... 8-19
Figure 8.2: Schematic Illustration of a Cross Section in a Quarry ................................. 8-22

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List of Tables

Site Investigation Manual 2013

Table 2.1: Ethiopian Climatic Zones .............................................................................. 2-3
Table 2.2: Thornthwaite Moisture Regions .................................................................... 2-6
Table 2.3: A summary of the characteristics and distribution of soils in Ethiopia ......... 2-11
Table 3.1: Common site investigation techniques........................................................... 3-1
Table 3.2: Comparison of Geophysical Methods. ........................................................... 3-5
Table 3.3: Comparison of Different Types of Test Pit and Trenching Methods .............. 3-8
Table 3.4: Soils and Soft Rock Boring Methods........................................................... 3-10
Table 3.5: Example of a Pit Log. ................................................................................. 3-14
Table 3.6: Example of a Standard Boring Log ............................................................. 3-15
Table 3.7: Common In-Situ Tests for Foundation Investigation ................................... 3-18
Table 4.1: Particle Size Definition for Gravels and Sands. ............................................. 4-2
Table 4.2: Field Identification Procedures for Fine Grained Soils. ................................. 4-3
Table 4.3: A Field Method to Describe Plasticity in terms of Dry Strength. ................... 4-4
Table 4.4: Additional Tests to Identify Fine Grained Soils in the Field........................... 4-5
Table 4.5: The AASHTO soil classification system. ...................................................... 4-8
Table 4.6: Rock groups and types ................................................................................ 4-13
Table 4.7: Terminology for Layer Thickness ............................................................... 4-14
Table 4.8: Terminology for Rock Mass Weathering ..................................................... 4-16
Table 4.9: Description of rock strength in the field ...................................................... 4-17
Table 4.10: Discontinuity Spacing ............................................................................... 4-18
Table 5.1: Basic Steps for a Typical Investigation to Design a Road .............................. 5-2
Table 5.2: Ethiopian Data Sources for Site Investigation................................................ 5-4
Table 6.1: The Frequency and Depth of Investigation for Sub-grade Characterization.... 6-4
Table 6.2: The California Bearing Ratio (CBR) Test...................................................... 6-6
Table 6.3: Options for Measuring Dry Density. ............................................................. 6-8
Table 6.4: Information Needs During the Design of Road Cuts and Embankments ........ 6-9
Table 6.5: Suggested spacing and depth of trenches and boreholes for road cuts. ......... 6-11
Table 6.6: Investigation Needs for Embankments ........................................................ 6-14
Table 6.7: Spacing and Depth of Exploration Points for Embankment Investigations. .. 6-15
Table 6.8: Information Needs for Design of Different Types of Bridge Foundations .... 6-19
Table 6.9: The Minimum Number and Depth of Exploration Points for Bridge
Foundations .......................................................................................................... 6-23
Table 6.10: Indicators of Active or Potential Scour at or around Existing Bridges ........ 6-25
Table 7.1: Classification of Expansive Soils according to US Bureau of Reclamation .. 7-14
Table 7.2: Qualitative Assessment of Collapse Potential .............................................. 7-17
Table 7.3: Relationship between the Degree of Dispersion and % of Exchangeable
Sodium. ................................................................................................................ 7-18
Table 7.4: Guide to Interpret of the Result of the Jar Slake Test ................................... 7-28
Table 7.5: The Characteristics of Rocks as Potential Sources of Seepage at Road Cuts.7-31
Table 8.1: Techniques that Assist the Investigation of Construction Materials ............... 8-2
Table 8.2: General Requirements for Fill Materials. ....................................................... 8-5
Table 8.3: General sub-grade and capping layer material requirements .......................... 8-6
Table 8.4: The requirements for unbound granular pavement materials .......................... 8-7
Table 8.5: Requirements for Bitumen-Bound and Surfacing Aggregate Materials. ......... 8-8
Table 8.6: Borrow pitting and quarrying methods .......................................................... 8-9
Table 8.7: Types of Tests required to Analyse Materials for various purposes.............. 8-12
Table 8.8: Basic Engineering Tests needed for Material Analyses................................ 8-13
Table 8.9: Field tests useful to identify engineering properties of soils and rocks ......... 8-14
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List of Tables

Table 8.10: Aggregate strength and durability tests ..................................................... 8-16

Table 8.11: Sample sizes needed for different tests...................................................... 8-18
Table 8.12: Weathering Grades for Describing and Classifying Road Construction
Materials. ............................................................................................................. 8-24
Table 8.13: The Local Distribution and Usage of Materials for Road Construction...... 8-27
Table 10.1: Site Investigation Checklist ...................................................................... 10-7

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Glossary of Terms

Site Investigation Manual 2013


Hard mineral elements of construction material mixtures, for

example: sand, gravel (crushed or uncrushed) or crushed rock.


Loose, unconsolidated (not cemented together into a solid rock),

soil or sediments, eroded, deposited, and reshaped by water in
some form in a non-marine setting.


A hard, dense, dark volcanic rock composed chiefly of

plagioclase, pyroxene, and olivine, and often having a glassy


The more or less continuous body of rock that underlies the



Step in a slope formed by a horizontal surface and a surface

inclined at a steeper angle than that of the entire slope.


A shelf that breaks the continuity of a slope.

Borrow Area

An area within designated boundaries approved for the purpose

of obtaining borrow material. A borrow pit is the excavated pit in
the borrow area.

Borrow Material

Any gravel, sand, soil, rock or ash obtained from borrow areas,
dumps or sources other than cut within the road prism which is
used for construction of the specified work for the project. It does
not include crushed stone or sand obtained from commercial


A rock fragment usually rounded by weathering or abrasion with

an average dimension of 0.3 m or more.


Stones or aggregate used for thin bituminous surface dressings



Loose bodies of sediment that have been deposited or built up at

the bottom of a low-grade slope or against a barrier on that slope,
transported by gravity.


The load per unit area at which an unconfined cylindrical

specimen of soil or rock will fail in a simple compression test.


The gradual reduction in volume of a soil mass resulting from an

increase in compressive stress.


A cylindrical sample rock, concrete, hardened grout or grouted

deposits usually obtained from core drilling.


A structure other than bridge that provides an opening under the

carriageway or median for drainage or other purposes.


Cut means all excavations from the road prism including sidedrains, and excavations from intersecting roads (including open
drains when classified as cut).

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Glossary of Terms


A fracture in the continuity of a rock formation caused by a

shifting or dislodging of the earth's crust in which adjacent
surfaces are displaced relative to one another and parallel to the
plane of fracture.

Ferricrete gravel

A mineral conglomerate consisting of surficial sand and gravel

cemented into a hard mass by iron oxide derived from the
oxidation of percolating solutions of iron salts.


Materials from which a man-made raised structure or deposit

such as an embankment is constructed. These could include soils,
soil-aggregate or rock. Materials imported to replace unsuitable
roadbed material are also classified as fill.


Lower part of a structure that transmits the load to the soil or



Rounded or semi-rounded particles of rock that will pass a

75 mm sieve and be retained on a 4.75 mm sieve.


That part of the subsurface water that is in the saturated zone.

Lacustrine deposits

Sedimentary deposits that is laid down in the waters of a lake.


Soil types rich in iron and aluminium, formed in hot and wet
tropical areas.


A prominent upland usually of considerable extent.

Mountainous terrain

Terrain that is rugged and very hilly with substantial restrictions

in both vertical and horizontal alignment.


The study of physical features of the earth's surface (physical



The specifications of a project that form part of the contract

documentation and which contain supplementary and/or
amending specifications to the standard specifications.


An area within existing boundaries approved for the purpose of

obtaining rock by sawing or blasting


A rock consisting entirely of quartz; white, very hard rock that

shows little or no granular structure.


The process by which a new pavement is constructed, utilizing

mostly new materials, to replace an existing pavement.


A form of drainage pattern in which the streams flow at right

angles to each other, controlled by the joint pattern of the
underlying rocks.

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Work undertaken to significantly extend the service life of an

existing pavement. This may include overlays and pre-overlay
repairs, and may include complete removal and reconstruction of
the existing pavement, or recycling of part of the existing


An acid igneous rock of the same mineral composition as granite,

but of fine grain. The fine grain is caused by rapid chilling of a
lava flow and the consequent suppression of the growth of large


A layer of material of defined thickness and width constructed on

top of the sub-base, or in the absence thereof, the subgrade. A
roadbase may extend to outside the carriageway.


The natural in situ material on which the fill, or in the absence of

fill, any pavement layers, are to be constructed.

Roadbed Material

The material below the subgrade extending to such depth as

affects the support of the pavement structure.


The area normally travelled by vehicles and consisting of one or

a number of contiguous traffic lanes, including auxiliary lanes
and shoulders.


A slope formed on the exposed ends of a tilted sequence of

rocks. The slope is usually associated with a dip slope, which is
developed on the exposed upper bed in the sequence. Scarp
slopes are usually steeper and more irregular than dip slopes.


A metamorphic rock characterised by a parallel arrangement of

most of its constituent minerals, which are chiefly micas. Schists
are usually soft, easily weathered, and easily split along the plane
of weakness.

Shear Strength

The maximum resistance of a soil or rock to shearing stresses.


The condition of a structure or a mass of material when it is able

to support the applied stress for a long time without suffering any
significant deformation or movement that is not reversed by the
release of stress.


The treatment of the materials used in the construction of the

road bed material, fill or pavement layers by the addition of a
cementitious binder such as lime or Portland Cement or the
mechanical modification of the material through the addition of a
soil binder or a bituminous binder. Concrete and asphalt shall not
be considered as materials that have been stabilized.


The layer of material of specified dimensions on top of the

subgrade and below the roadbase.


The surface upon which the pavement structure and shoulders are

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Glossary of Terms


A common name for basaltic lava flows.


A soil in which there is a high content of expansive clay known

as montmorillonite that forms deep cracks in drier seasons or


The phenomena associated with volcanic activity.


A flat-floored valley with an intermittent stream, characteristic of

arid and semi-arid areas.


An area of land whose soil is saturated with moisture either

permanently or seasonally. Such areas may also be covered
partially or completely by shallow pools of water. Wetlands
include swamps, marshes, and bogs, among others. The water
found in wetlands can be saltwater, freshwater, or brackish.

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American Association of State Highway and Transportation

Aggregate Abrasion Value


Asphaltic Concrete


Aggregate Crushing value


Africa Community Access Programme


Aggregate Impact value


American Society for Testing and Materials


California Bearing Ratio


Core recovery


Dynamic Cone Penetrometer


Digital Evaluation Model


Department for International Development, UK


Dilatometer test


Depth of Significant Influence

Youngs Modulus


Ethiopian Mapping Agency


Ethiopian Roads Authority

10% FACT

10% Fines Aggregate Crushing Test


Falling Weight Deflectometer


Group Index


Geological Survey of Ethiopia


Hydrochloric Acid


Health, Safety and the Environment


Flakiness Index


Elongation Index


Inter-tropical Convergence Zone


Maximum Dry Density


Optimum Moisture Content


Los Angeles Abrasion


Liquidity Index


Liquid Limit

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Moisture Condition Value


Maximum Dry Density


Mega Pascal


Optimum Moisture Content


Plasticity Index


Plastic Limit


Pavement Management System


Pressure Meter Test


Particle Size Distribution


Polished Stone Value


Rock Quality Designation


South African Institute of Civil Engineers


Spectral Analysis of Surface Waves


Standard Penetration Test


Transport Construction Design Enterprise


Transport Research Laboratory


Unified Soil Classification System


Vane Shear Test


Weighted Plasticity Index


Three Dimensional

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Background and Context

Chapter 1

All roads, whether they are built above or below the ground surface, use naturally
occurring soils and rocks as the basic foundation and construction materials. Unlike manmade materials, the properties of these soils and rocks are highly variable and a function of
the complex natural processes that occurred in the geologic past. As a consequence, road
construction engineers are faced with the challenge of using soils and rocks available near
the project site, whose properties are often unknown and of variable quality.
Hence, the investigation of potential sites and alignments is a vital and integral part of the
location, design and construction of a road and its associated structures. It provides
essential information on the following:
Characteristics of the soils along the possible alignments;
Availability of construction materials;
Land use;
Environmental issues; and
Socio-political considerations.
Typical uses of the information are;
Selection of the route/alignment of the road;
Location of water crossings and drainage structures;
Provision of design information for the road pavements, bridges and other
Identification of areas of possible geotechnical problems requiring specialist
Identification of areas of possible problem soils requiring additional investigation
and treatment;
Location and assessment of suitable, locally available, borrow and construction
From the above, it is evident that the main component of site investigations is focussed on
what is generally described as engineering or, more precisely, geotechnical engineering
and it is these investigations that will be the focus of this manual.
It is recognised that various other types of surveys are required for the design of a road.
Hydrological surveys are required to determine the water flows that determine the drainage
design of the road, including bridges; traffic surveys are required to estimate the numbers
of vehicles that will use the road, both motorised and non-motorised; surveys are required
to evaluate environmental impacts and how to control them; surveys are required in which
the local communities are consulted about the road project; and so on. Guidance on
conducting these surveys is provided in the respective ERA Manuals. It is important to
note that the Route Selection manual and Geotechnical Design manual produced as part of
the 2013 series of ERA manuals provide more comprehensive guidance on route selection
and geotechnical design than was previously provided in the 2002 Site Investigation
Manual and other manuals in the 2002 series.

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Not all projects will require the same detailed surveys. Road projects fall into one of the
following categories:
A new road that follows the general alignment of an existing track or trail;
Upgrading a lower class of road to a higher class;
A completely new road where nothing currently exists.
Some realignment, and therefore site investigation, will almost certainly be necessary
when upgrading an existing road and considerably more will be required when converting
a track into an all-weather route. Major site investigations are usually only needed when
designing and building a completely new road. In all cases the extent and quality of any
investigation has a strong influence on the selection of the most cost-effective route and
road design.
Roads of all standards require sufficient investigation to provide sufficient data and
information to enable the engineer to optimise the design. In this respect, it is the job of the
design engineer to ensure that a well-designed and organised site investigation is
undertaken. The design engineer must therefore specify a site investigation programme for
the site investigation teams (survey, materials, geotechnical, socio-environmental) that will
provide adequate information and data to examine the feasibility of all the routes and
designs under consideration.
Site investigation techniques encompass a large range of methods and the amount and type
of exploration that is needed for a specific road will depend on the nature of the proposed
project and the environment in which it is to be built. Information is provided in the manual
on the various site investigation techniques that could be used depending on the prevailing
Each site investigation technique has its own purpose and when two or more are taken
together in the right combination they can provide a valuable insight into the subsurface
conditions. Deciding which technique to use when, where and how, is normally made by
geotechnical engineers with a good geological knowhow or engineering geologist with a
background of road design. The practice can also be performed by a team comprising
pavement engineers and geologists.
It is also important to emphasise that without exception, it is always more cost-effective to
undertake an appropriate site investigation (depending on the category and importance of
the road) from the start of the project rather than trying to rescue an inadequate
investigation during construction or even worse, after the construction has been completed.
The preparation of this document represents the interests of the Ethiopian Road Authority
(ERA) to revise and upgrade the 2002 site investigation manual. It is the responsibility of
the user to ensure that the use of this document conforms to the policies and engineering
practices of ERA.


The main objective of this manual is to provide sufficient guidance on site investigation for
road design so that the necessary input data can be developed and proper engineering
principles applied to the design of new roads, or upgrading and rehabilitation of existing
roads. This manual is prepared to provide project engineers with tools to assist in the

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Chapter 1

rational development of site investigation programmes, the execution of suitable in-situ

and laboratory tests and the interpretation of data obtained from these programmes and test


The ERA (2002) site investigation manual provided the foundation for this manual.
However, this edition of the manual contains a number of major additions and
modifications in the contents and the structure. For example, unlike the previous manual,
information is provided on the general distribution of soils and rocks in the country. In
many cases in Ethiopia the soils which form the foundation or sub-grade of the roads in
any specific climatic, traffic and terrain conditions become the most critical component in
the design and construction of the road. For this reason, the document attempts to address
the entire range of soil materials potentially encountered in different regions of Ethiopia so
as to assist engineers in selecting appropriate investigation techniques for each landform,
geological makeup and climatic region.
It should however be stressed that this manual is not all encompassing in terms of
explaining every technique and procedure that can be used to investigate roads during the
design phase. Practitioners will need to use other references to broaden their knowledge
and use diverse approaches for different conditions. In addition, this manual must be used
in conjunction with other documents such as the ERA Pavement Design Manual,
Geotechnical Design Manual, Bridge Design Manual, Drainage Design Manual and the
Route Selection Manual. Moreover, although laboratory tests that are useful for pavement
design are listed in appropriate sections and appendices, detailed procedures are not
covered in this manual.
The procedures given in this manual should be adhered to, unless otherwise directed by
ERA. However, it should also be understood that careful consideration to geotechnical
engineering practice should be observed in the use of the manual, and under no
circumstances shall the manual be used as an excuse to disregard professional and expert
In addition to the guidance given on site investigation requirements, the document also
recommends a phased investigation approach that will be essential to all projects
irrespective of size. As a good indication, international practice suggests that expenditure
of 2% of the project costs on adequate site investigation has the potential of saving the
client between 10% and 100% on over-expenditure of project foundation and structural

Stages of Site Investigation

Some form of site investigation is required at all stages in the development of a road project.
In general there are four stages leading up to and including Final Engineering Design. These
1 Identification and general planning;
2 Pre-feasibility study;
3 Feasibility Study or Preliminary Engineering Design;

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Final Engineering Design.

More detail is presented in Chapter 5 related on the site investigations associated with each
stage. It should also be noted that not all stages are required for all projects.


Figure 1.1 highlights the phased approach for site investigations and moves away from the
concept of a single-phased ground investigation. It is only as the investigation proceeds
that one can assess the need (or otherwise) for further often more sophisticated
investigation. However, this approach must not be seen as an open cheque book for
additional costs for site investigation. Any cost variation should be dealt with up front with
the Client and the additional investigation techniques agreed.
Without a phased approach as shown in Figure 1.1 investigations may be left incomplete
and the engineer unable to draw the correct conclusions. The engineer responsible for the
design of the road should not be left guessing on the required design parameters. Hence,
sufficient investigation must be carried out to determine the parameters with a reasonable
degree of confidence.

Manual Structure

The first five chapters of the manual, including the introduction, provide general
information on the physiography, climate, geology and soil distribution specific to
Ethiopia; soil and rock classification; commonly used site investigation techniques; and the
application of these to the various stages of site investigation highlighted in Section 1.4
and Figure 1.1. These chapters provide valuable information mainly at prefeasibility and
feasibility stages as part of the desk study to understand the prevailing terrain and climate;
and to plan for more detailed investigations, using the most appropriate techniques, to
support the design stage.
Information specific to design requirements and special investigations are covered in
Chapters 6 and 7 with construction material surveys and a review of construction covered
in Chapters 8 and 9.
Reports and checklists are presented in Chapter 10. These are essential components of a
successful site investigation programme. The reports allow geotechnical engineers to
present the information obtained during the investigation of the sub-grade, fills and
embankments, foundation characteristics and the behaviour of construction materials in the
design phase. The checklists are important to assess the work done and for completion of
the site investigations.
References are given at the end of the document and provide a source of more detailed
information to supplement what is presented in this manual.

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Appoint Geotechnical Specialist



Identify initial site risks, geotechnical

constraints & estimate scope of works
Desk study and walkover survey making
maximum use of existing data & local

Client brief on type/class of road,

structures, geometry etc

Identify alternative, feasible

alignments (up to three) with
alternative solutions for each

Update scope of site investigation based on

the possible alignments

Evaluate risks and benefits of each site

related to an appropriate cost for the
respective investigations (value engineering)
in line with the client brief

Comprehensive desk study with

limited fieldwork and lab testing



Feasibility Report

Project Feasible?

Detailed site investigation along chosen alignment

focussing on soil characterisation, terrain/slope
characterisation and founding conditions of structures


Additional testing

Undertake Geotechnical



design required?



Use for
pavement design


Monitor and value engineer as site conditions

are exposed. Verify design assumptions


Long-term monitoring of pavement

performance through visuals, deflections and
riding quality

Figure 1-1: Phased Approach to Site Investigation (Geotechnical aspects)

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Types of road projects

The first important issue before conducting any site investigation in an area is to know
whether the project involves new construction, rehabilitation or reconstruction.
New construction is the construction of a pavement system on a new alignment
that has not been previously constructed.
Rehabilitation is defined as the repair and upgrading of an existing pavement.
Typically, this involves the repair or removal and construction of additional bound
pavement layers, and could include partial-depth or full-depth recycling or
Reconstruction (including upgrading) is defined as the complete removal of an
existing pavement system, typically down to and including the upper portions of
the foundation soil, and the replacement with a new pavement structure.
This manual is primarily based on the site investigation requirements for the design of new
roads. However, references are made to rehabilitation and reconstruction projects at
different sections whenever it is assumed that the contents are applicable to them. A short
note on techniques useful to investigate the condition of existing pavements is given in
Chapter 9.
1 .7.1 New Construction
There are two or more investigation phases that new construction may require. The first
phase is to identify the best of several possible routes, or to evaluate sub-grade and
foundation alternatives. This phase of investigation may not require a detailed exploration.
Rather, it is limited to a geologic reconnaissance and some sampling, and identification of
surface and subsurface conditions to perform a generalized site characterization. (See the
ERA Route Selection Manual for more details).
Once a route is selected, the site investigation programme for the design of new roads
requires a complete evaluation of the vertical and horizontal variability of the sub-grade,
and the characteristics of construction materials. This may use all or many of the site
investigation phases mentioned in Chapter 5. Little will be known in advance of the soil
profiles along the new alignment. Therefore, a comprehensive surface and subsurface
exploration programme and material characterization is required at this stage, although
access to the site is often limited due to adverse terrain condition. The locations and
dimensions of cuts and fills, and structural elements such as bridges and culverts should
also be identified as accurately as possible.
In addition, for new road construction projects, samples from the sub-grade immediately
beneath the pavement and from soils that will be used as fill material will be required to
obtain the design-input parameters. For designs based on sub-grade strength, lab CBR or
DCP CBR values can be used to determine the support characteristics of the sub-grade (see
Chapter 6). Location of the groundwater table is also an important aspect of the subsurface
exploration programme for new construction to evaluate water control issues such as subgrade drainage requirements with respect to both design and construction. Other design
issues include the presence of problem soils and the identification of soft or otherwise
unsuitable materials to be removed from the sub-grade.
New construction has been, and still is, the main focus of most pavement design
procedures in various regions of Ethiopia. However, this focus may shift to rehabilitation
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and reconstruction projects in the coming years, when the Ethiopian Road Authority
(ERA) and regional road agencies switch from a strategy of road access expansion to a
more extensive road maintenance programme.
1.7.2 Rehabilitation
In specific circumstances, site investigations could involve the restoration and repair of
road failures (including landslides), assessment of embankment stability, slope
stabilization, sub-grade and pavement settlement, and replacement of old foundation
systems. The restoration of a road section, or the addition of structural capacity to an
existing pavement, is known as rehabilitation.
The details and extent of the site investigation for rehabilitation projects depend on many
factors such as the condition of the road and the nature of any distress; whether the road
segment will be returned to its original, as-built condition, or whether it will be upgraded.
If the road is distressed, the type of distress should be investigated (e.g. shallow basecourse
failure; deep seated failures; settlement of a structure; landslides; drainage and water flow
problems; evidence of imminent collapse). The proposed geometry, location, changes of
structures (for instance culvert to bridge), and the required design life of the road, are also
In general, rehabilitation projects need some pits and trenches to be dug. As access will not
be a problem, pits and trenches can be excavated easily and quickly using backhoes and
dozers. This can even be done as the rehabilitation progresses. In some cases, such as deepseated landslides, some borings may be required prior to rehabilitation to evaluate the
properties of the slope and sub-grade materials. For minor problems, the pit and trenches in
the pavement can be used to investigate the in-situ and disturbed properties of the subgrade. In the field, DCP tests can be carried out to examine structural properties as well as
layer thicknesses (Appendix A). Non-destructive evaluation using the Falling Weight
Deflectometer (FWD) can also be used to determine in-place material properties for
rehabilitation design (see Chapter 3).
1.7.3 Reconstruction (including upgrading)
The practice of upgrading and reconstruction includes activities like roadway replacement,
full depth reclamation, or road widening. In Ethiopia, upgrading often involves the
replacement of a gravel road by a new asphalt concrete (AC) or surface treated road on the
same or slightly different alignment. Except for the demolition of the existing pavement
during construction, upgrading and reconstruction are very similar to a new pavement in
terms of design.
Before upgrading and reconstruction, a preliminary investigation of the type, severity, and
amount of visible distress on the surface of the existing pavement and the condition of the
road (whether gravel or surfaced) can indicate issues that need a more extensive
investigation. Original design documents and construction records are often available for
reconstruction projects. However, even with the presence of these records, additional
subsurface investigation is usually needed to confirm and validate the new pavement
design parameters. The engineering parameters measured during the original construction
often change with time. In addition, previous data such as traffic counts may no longer be
valid. Hence, it is advisable that design values are obtained for the prevailing materials and

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sub-grade condition using current data, especially when the existing pavement is beyond
its original design life.
However, depending on the purpose and scale of the project, foundation soil properties for
reconstruction of some roads can be determined from original design records and in situ
testing, similar to rehabilitation design. For road widening projects, the use of in-situ tests
on the shoulder section of the old road will be helpful. The characterization of the new or
recycled unbound sub-base and base materials should be determined through laboratory
tests, similar to the design of a new road. Subsurface investigations for upgrading and
reconstruction projects can also be undertaken using non-destructive methods or
geophysical tests performed over the old pavement.

The Site Investigation Team

The following attributes are needed by the team or from individuals involved in any site
investigation activity for pavement design:
Concepts of soil and rock mechanics;
Knowledge of the geology of the area; and
Experiences on direct and indirect exploratory methods.
It is also important that all engineers and geologist on the team have sufficient general
knowledge in all areas of pavement design and construction to communicate effectively
with one another, and to guide site inspectors and drilling technicians. In addition, team
members should have the enthusiasm and drive for work and the ability to take
responsibility for decisions in the field when necessary.

Other Factors

1 .9.1 Health, Safety and the Environment

Any type of site investigation undertaken in Ethiopia must comply with the prevailing
Occupational Safety and Health Act of the country (Labour Proclamation No. 377/2003 Part 7) and all environmental legislation whether national, regional or local. In addition, it
is the responsibility of the Client to obtain any site-specific health, safety and
environmental (HS&E) requirements and to make these available as part of any
procurement process for site investigation works. It is also advisable that an HS&E plan is
prepared by the appointed contractor and approved by the Client prior to commencement
of the fieldwork (also see section 1.9.6).
1 .9.2 Site Access
It is the Clients responsibility to obtain the necessary permission to access the land. This
may include permission from land owners, and permission to undertake work within
previously developed areas.
1 .9.3 Presence of Existing Services
It is the Clients responsibility to obtain and indicate the presence of any existing services
on the site prior to commencement of fieldwork. This is particularly crucial with respect to

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Chapter 1

fuel lines, telecommunication lines, major electrical installations and water reticulation
lines. It is also the responsibility of the Client to apply for and obtain the necessary
excavation permits.
1.9.4 Security
Allowance should be made to provide security for equipment and personnel in certain
areas as required. For example, the employment of security guards to protect valuable
drilling equipment left overnight on unprotected sites.
1.9.5 Socio-political considerations
A site may be located which has socio-political sensitivities. In these circumstances, it is
essential that the local community is informed by the Client of the need to undertake a site
investigation, along with the extent and nature of the investigation.
1.9.6 Proximity to Existing Roads and Waterways
If fieldwork needs to be conducted adjacent to an existing road or waterway then safety
aspects must be taken into account. This would affect the personnel working on the site
and the general public in proximity to the site. Potential hazards could include: dust
pollution; spillages and pollution of potable water sources; traffic accommodation; and
strongly flowing river crossings. Appropriate safety and precautionary measures will need
to be implemented.

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Chapter 2
Physiography, Climate, Geology and Soil Distribution




Before commencing the design of any type of road it is the responsibility of the engineers
and geologists involved in the project to become familiar with all aspects of the
environment. Environmental information on the climate, topography and geological
aspects of the project site is an essential requirement to the understanding of the
engineering characteristics of the area and is a prerequisite for the planning, design and
construction of roads. The information is useful to identify the broad-scale climatic and
terrain conditions of the area within which a route corridor is to be placed and thus provide
a basis for:
Evaluating alternative locations during planning;
Defining the geotechnical situation of the selected route during design; and
Analysing external influences during construction.
Ethiopia is a country of great geographic diversity with high, rugged mountains, flat
topped plateaus, incised river valleys, broad lowlands, and rift valley basins. Over the
geological past, volcanic eruptions, tectonic movements, landslides and erosion have
occurred throughout the country to create long escarpments and deep gorges. The location
of the country within the tropics, in association with the physical conditions and variations
in altitude, has also resulted in a great diversity of climate, soil, and vegetation. In the
following sections, basic environmental information on the physiography, geology,
climate, soil distribution and vegetation of the country are given to provide the user of this
manual with a basic knowledge of these parameters during site investigation for the design
of roads.

Physiography and landform

As shown in Figure 2.1, Ethiopia is divided into three physiographic regions: the northwestern and the south-eastern highlands separated asymmetrically by the rift valley. The
highlands are formed from lava flows that have created extensive plateaus, dissected by
very deep, river-worn gorges, and marked by isolated summits rising to more than
4,000 m. In the west, the north-western highlands give way to a large low lying flat plain.
The south-eastern highlands on the other hand grade into a semi-arid lowland further east
and south towards Somalia and Kenya. The tropical lowlands on the periphery of the
plateaus contrast markedly with the upland terrain. The north-western highlands are
considerably more extensive and rugged and are divided into north and south sections by
the Blue Nile gorge.

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Physiography, Climate, Geology and Soil Distribution

Figure 2. 1: Physiographic regions of Ethiopia

The rift valley is a large open basin, bounded from the east and west by long and high
scarps of volcanic rocks. It is very wide in the north and narrow in the central and southern
portions. Its undulating but relatively flat floor is occupied mainly by lake basins and
volcano-tectonic depressions. Some of these lakes hold fresh water recharged by small
streams. Others contain salts and soluble minerals. Existing literature indicates that the
Ethiopian rift valley is affected by NESW trending normal faults. There are also
suggestions of the presence of extensions in the EW direction which can be related to
rifting. Hence, the rift valley is thought to be geologically active and earthquakes are
common in the region.
Many places in the Ethiopian highlands have a general elevation in the range of 1,500 to
3,000 metres above sea level. Interspersed on these landscapes are high mountain ranges
and level-topped peaks known as Ambas. The highest mountain in the country at an
elevation of 4,620 metres is Mt. Ras Dashen located in the northern part of the country. In
contrast, lowlands with an elevation of less than 1,500 m are common in the rift valley.
Lowlands are also present in the Somali region and in areas bordering Sudan, Kenya and
Somalia. The lowest place in the country at about 115 m below sea level is the Dalol
(Denakil) depression, a large, triangle-shaped basin located in the northern part of the Afar
region. Active volcanoes occur in the Denakil area, and hot springs and steaming fissures
are found in surrounding areas. The existence of small volcanoes, hot springs, and many
deep gorges indicates that large segments of the landmass in the country are still
geologically active.

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Chapter 2
Physiography, Climate, Geology and Soil Distribution

In general, the highlands, lowlands and associated basins in Ethiopia can be divided into
ten distinct landforms on the basis of broad terrain characteristics useful for engineering
purposes. These are:
The northern, western, central and eastern highlands;
The western, southern and Ogaden lowlands; and
The northern, central and southern rift valley basins.
All of Ethiopia's rivers originate in the highlands and flow outward through gorges and
basins. The general westward inclinations of the highland areas dictate that rivers such as
the Blue Nile, Tekeze, and Baro belong to the drainage system of the Nile. The Awash
river flows in the northern half of the rift valley and goes to the saline lakes found near the
border with Djibouti. The southeast part of the country is drained by the Genale and
Shebele rivers and their tributaries, while the Omo river flows in the southwest towards
Lake Turkana.


2.3.1 Climatic Zones

The major factors influencing rainfall in Ethiopia are the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone
(ITCZ) and winds blowing from the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The variation in altitude
throughout the country also influences climatic conditions. In addition, the micro-climatic
changes over small distances are often created by differences in micro-relief. The
traditional classification of climatic zones in Ethiopia is based on altitude and temperature.
It divides the country into five climatic zones are shown in Figure 2.2 and summarised in
Table 2.1.

Table 2.1: Ethiopian Climatic Zones

Climatic Zone
Wurch (cold)
Dega (cool-cold)
Weina Dega (warm-cool)
Kolla (hot-warm)
Berha (hot)

Ethiopian Roads Authority

> 3 200
2 300 3 200
1 500 2 300

Temperature (C)
< 10
10 - 16
16 - 20

500 1 500

20 - 28

< 500

28 - 34

Elevation (m)

Average Annual
Rainfall (mm)
< 800
1 000 - 2000
1 200
(1 000 in places)
< 400

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Figure 2.2: Traditional climatic zones in Ethiopia.

Generally, central, eastern and northern areas of Ethiopia experience a bimodal rainfall
pattern, receiving the major rains from June to September and small spring showers
between February and May. Western and south-western parts of the country are
characterized by a unimodal rainfall pattern brought about by wind systems to give
continuous rains from March or April to October or November. Southern and south-eastern
parts get two periods of rain from September to November and from March to May.
North-eastern parts of the country comprise part of the western escarpment of the rift
valley and the adjacent Afar depression. These lowlands have one very limited rainy
season anytime between November and February. In all regions of the country, the amount
of rainfall and length of the rainy season decreases when one goes from south to north and
from west to east (Figure 2.3).
The mean monthly temperature varies slightly throughout the year, although the difference
between the minimum and maximum temperatures is high only in the dry season.
According to the National Metrological Agency of Ethiopia, the highest mean maximum
temperatures in the country, in the range of 40 oC to 45oC, are recorded in the Afar
depression. The other hot areas are the north-western lowlands close to the border with
Sudan, which experience a mean maximum temperature of 40oC in June, and the western
and south-eastern lowlands with mean maximum temperatures of 35oC during April. Most
of the Somali, Dire Dawa and Afar regions are also hot for several months in a year. The
lowest mean temperatures in the range of 5oC to 15 oC or even lower are recorded in the
morning or at night between October and January in the highland areas, with an elevation
of over 2,000 m above sea level. In these areas, the midday warmth diminishes quickly by
late afternoon and nights are usually cold.

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Figure 2.3: Rainfall distribution of Ethiopia.

2.3.2 Climatic Indices
While the most common measure of climate is rainfall, both Thornthwaite (1948) and
Weinert (1980) developed indices for the evapotranspiration of an area. For the purpose of
site investigation in Ethiopia it is recommended that the Thornthwaite Moisture Index (Im)
is used.
According to Emery (1985) the index derived by Thornthwaite provides a rational
classification of climate based the potential evapotranspiration which is defined as:
The amount of moisture that would be transferred from vegetation covered soil to the
atmosphere by evaporation and transpiration if it were constantly available in optimum
A comparison of the potential evapotranspiration with precipitation gives the variation in
soil moisture and hence, a measure of water surplus or water deficiency on an annual basis.
Thornthwaite assumed that the stored water was equivalent to 100 mm of rainfall and a
water deficiency occurred when the rainfall was 100 mm less than the potential
evapotranspiration. By combining the potential evapotranspiration with the water surplus
and water deficiency, a moisture index can be obtained.
Potential evapotranspiration (Ep) can be derived from the following (Nata Tadesse et al,
= 1.6


Ep = Potential transpiration in cms/month.

Tn = Mean monthly air temperature (C).
n = 1, 2, 3 .12 is the number of considered months.
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J = Annual heat Index given by the equation:

j = the monthly heat index expressed as:

A = 0.49 + 0.0179J 0.0000771J2 + 0.000000675J3

The overall availability of moisture during the year can be assessed by the moisture
index (Im):


60 )

D = Drainage
D = soil moisture deficit (approximately d = Ep - R 4)
R = Rainfall
Table 2.2 shows the moisture index in terms of the moisture regions defined by
Table 2.2: Thornthwaite Moisture Regions
Moisture Region




Moisture Index (Im)

80 to 100
60 to 80
40 to 60
20 to 40
0 to20
-20 to 0
-40 to -20
-60 to -40


In pavement design and construction, it is necessary to understand the geological history of

the project area. In particular it is essential to:
Determine the major geological processes that led to the formation of rocks and
soils in the area;
Know the regional and local stratigraphy;
Draw attention to important features like major faults and landslides
Assess whether any construction activity, especially earthworks, will cause major
changes to the existing environment;
Obtain an appreciation of the regional groundwater conditions; and
Form a logical basis for the location of proven sources of construction materials.

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The geology of Ethiopia provides a variety of rocks and soils (Figure 2.4). The oldest rocks
in the country are metamorphosed igneous and sedimentary rocks of Precambrian age.
They are exposed in parts of Harar, Dire Dawa, Sidamo, lllubabor, Welega, Gojam, and
Tigray. The metamorphic rocks in the south and west of the country, where granitic rocks
and gneisses predominate, are more strongly metamorphosed than the Precambrian
sequences in the north.
After a time of intense erosion in the Paleozoic, a shallow sea spread over much of the
south-eastern part of the country in Mesozoic times and then extended farther north and
northwest as the land continued to subside. This process first formed an accumulation of
sandstone followed by depositions of mudstone and limestone as the depth of water
increased. Much of the Blue Nile basin, Tigray, and places in Dire Dawa and Harar, are
covered by Mesozoic sedimentary rocks. The Blue Nile in particular provides long cliffs of
sandstone, limestone, and gypsum intercalated with relatively soft units of mudstone,
shale, and marl.
Extensive fracturing occurred in the Cenozoic, followed by major displacements along the
rift system. Faulting in late Tertiary was accompanied by widespread volcanic activity.
This resulted in the outpouring of vast quantities of basaltic lava known as the Trap Series
over much of the country, accompanied by the eruption of large amounts of ash and tuff.
Most of the highlands in the northwest, west, central and south-eastern part of the country
are now covered by these rocks. More recent volcanic activity is associated with the
development of the rift valley, being concentrated within the rift and along the edge of the
adjoining plateau.

Figure 2.4: Generalized geological map of Ethiopia.

At present, the rift valley is covered by Cenozoic volcanics and recent sediments. The
volcanics are dominantly basaltic lava flows, rhyolites and ignimbrites intercalated with
volcano-clastic deposits derived from tuff and volcanic ash. Volcanism has persisted into
the present time in the Afar region within small eruptive centres.

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Many areas in the rift valley are covered by alluvial and lacustrine deposits. The youngest
sediments in the country are of Quaternary age. These include conglomerates, sands and
clays which are accumulated in the Afar depression and the northern end of the rift valley.
Sediments are also present in dried lakes of the southern part of Afar, in the central and
southern part of the rift valley, and in the lower part of the Omo River. Undifferentiated
Quaternary sediments and superficial deposits occur intermittently along the border with
Sudan and Kenya.

Soil type and distribution

During road design and construction, soil engineering maps are very essential. These maps
show the distribution of soils, and describe their origin, physical characteristics and
engineering properties. However, national or regional based soil engineering maps do not
exist in Ethiopia. Consequently, maps are often only available in association with specific
road construction projects. In the absence of engineering soil maps, it is common practice
to use agricultural soil classification systems of the type given in Figure 2.5.

Figure 2.5: Agricultural soil map of Ethiopia.

In road design, it is necessary to use maps and material categories that are useful for
engineering purposes. Such maps and categories need to be comprehensive (covering all
materials), meaningful in an engineering context (so that engineers will be able to
understand and interpret them), and relatively descriptive. Engineering maps and
categories should normally be prepared to facilitate an easy transition from field
observations and descriptions made during site investigation to general classification of
soil and rock properties used for design.
The distribution of soils in Ethiopia is a function of climate, regional landform, local
topography and the underlying parent materials. Drainage is also an important factor in the
formation of some soils. Table 2.3 summarizes the engineering characteristics and
distribution of the most common soil types in Ethiopia.

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Generally, many places in Ethiopia are covered by thick autochthonous (residual) soils.
These soils, which are generally red and black in colour, are classified as oxisols and
vertisols, respectively, in agricultural or pedological soil maps. Laterites are also present
and the general trend of soil cover in the country is that black soils are replaced by red soils
which in turn grade to lateritic soils when one goes from central areas towards the west.
Transported soils in the form of lacustrine, alluvial and aeolian deposits are present in the
rift valley, along major river basins, and in depressions and lowlands.
The red soils normally occur on sloping ground close to local high points where there is
good drainage (Dumbleton, 1967), a vegetative cover with little organic matter and high
temperature and rainfall. Water removes the more soluble bases and silica, leaving the soil
rich in iron (in the form of iron oxide) and aluminum (as clay minerals of the kaolin
group). Deposits of these soils are present in the western part of Ethiopia (western and
north-western highlands), southern lowlands and southern rift, most part of the central
highlands, and in pockets of well drained lands throughout the north-east and eastern
Red soils can be formed from many kinds of rocks if the weathering conditions, climate
and drainage are suitable. In Ethiopia, they have developed mainly on volcanic (basalts,
ryholites, etc) and pyroclastics rocks. In the western part of the country they have also been
seen on granitic terrains. The iron oxide in these soils, which accounts for their dark red
colour, occurs in a hydrated (goethite) and an unhydrated form (hematite). Goethite and
hydrated halloysite predominate under wetter conditions. The clay mineral is usually
kaolin of the halloysite type, which occurs as hydrated and meta-halloysite. Hydrated
halloysite is readily converted to meta-halloysite on drying. Kaolin in the form of
halloysite has a disordered structure, which gives rise to a soil of higher potential plasticity
than well-ordered kaolinites. Red clays in the wetter regions of Ethiopia often show this
nature of possessing high plasticity and should be subjected to plasticity tests before they
are used for road construction purposes.
The black soils are formed when volcanic rocks and some sediment are weathered under
humid, alkaline conditions. Because of poor drainage, these soils are rich in soluble bases
and silica. Black clay soils, also called black cotton soils, contain montmorillonite and
other smectite group clay minerals. The presence of montmorillonite allows them to absorb
much water and expand upon wetting. The poor drainage pre-condition means these soils
can also contain some calcite grains. The black colour is largely due to organic matter.
Black soils are widely distributed in Ethiopia, especially in the highlands. Known as
vertisols, they are present in the central, north-western and eastern highlands and western
lowlands. They are fertile and used intensively for agriculture. It is estimated that
7.6 million hectares of vertisol area are located in the highlands with a height of greater
than 1,500 m above sea level (Jutzi and Abebe, 1986). The remaining area (over five
million hectares) is located at elevations below 1,500 m. The general slope range of the
landscape on which vertisols occur is 0 8% (Debele, 1985). They are more frequent in 0 2% slope range and are usually found in landscapes of restricted drainage such as
seasonally inundated depressional basins, alluvial and colluvial plains, undulated plateaus,
valleys and undulating side slopes.
Laterites and lateritic soils are present in the western lowlands near the border with Sudan
and in some lowlands of the southern region. They are reddish highly weathered soils that
contain oxides of iron and aluminium and may have also some amount of quartz and
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kaolinite. Laterites may have hardened either partially or extensively into gravel like or
rock like masses, they may have cemented other materials into rock like aggregates, or
they may be relatively soft but with the property of self-hardening after exposure.
Laterites are thought to be formed by the influence of a fluctuating water table to allow
solution and transfer of soluble silica, iron, and aluminium ions, resulting in iron and
aluminium oxides accumulating in the upper part of the profile. In Ethiopia, laterites have
been developed on common igneous and metamorphic rocks. Most of the lateritic soils are
clays, or sandy or gravelly clays, which behave as soils of medium plasticity. Sinkholes
similar to those in limestone are known to occur in some laterite profiles. These sinkholes
develop when voids are formed by the removal of silica and silicate minerals.
In-situ laterite profiles are often permeable. Many of the structural features which cause the
high permeability are near-vertical. Lateritic soils usually make excellent earth-fill
construction materials. When used as fill, lateritic soils are characterized by a high
effective friction angle and medium to low density and permeability. In most cases, they
are readily compacted despite often having high and poorly defined water content.
Sometimes, lateritic clays are readily compacted at water contents between 40% and 50%.
However, some particularly silty laterites with high halloysite contents can be difficult to
compact. The ferricrete gravels and weak rocks in the near-surface crust zone are used as
base or sub-base material in pavements for roads and airstrips. Lateritic soils are often nondispersive.
Lacustrine deposits are common in the rift valley, in various lowlands, and along river
basins. The group includes soils which have been deposited in lakes and depressions and in
surrounding flood-plain. Lacustrine deposits consist of a heterogeneous sequence of clay,
thin lenses of sand and silt, pumice fragments and other volcanic sediments. In some parts
of the rift valley, these deposits are reported to be 4050 m thick on average. Several
small, loosely interconnected erosion pipes are observed in these deposits. The relative
density of such deposits is variable, but the upper few metres are likely to be loose to
medium sand and silt, hence, will be relatively compressible. Deeper deposits are more
likely to be dense, less compressible and could have a high effective friction angle.
The alluvial soils form a skeletal layer above the lacustrine deposits. They are largely soft,
irregular in grading and rounding, and have light-grey to yellow-coloured weathering
sheath surrounding the fresh interiors. The alluvial sands and silts had origins from the
pumice layers and supplied to the rift during periods of flooding. Alluvial soils deposited
elsewhere outside the rift can vary from clays of high plasticity to coarse sands and
gravels. These soils are characterized by great variability in engineering property, both
vertically and laterally. Typical geotechnical properties of these soils include high void
ratios which are related to porosities of above 60%, low bulk densities and low moisture
content. The tensile strength of these soils is found to be low because of their clay

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Table 2.3: A summary of the characteristics and distribution of soils in Ethiopia

Type of soil
Red clay soils

Engineering characteristics
The red colour is the result of iron oxide; they
contain kaolin in the form of halloysite, which has a
disordered structure and may produce a soil with a
potential of high plasticity than soils with wellordered kaolinites.

Black clay soils (black cotton soils) contain a clay

mineral called montmorillonite which promotes
expansion on wetting. These soils often have high
Black clay soils dry strength, and are highly plastic with a liquid limit
of above 40%. A measure of the activity (the ratio of
the plasticity index to the clay fraction) is a good
indication of swelling potential.

Lateritic soils


Alluvial soils

Aeolian (wind
blown) soils

In-situ laterite profiles are often permeable. Lateritic

soils usually make excellent earth-fill construction
materials. When used as fill, lateritic soils are
characterized by high effective friction angle and
medium to low density and permeability
Material deposited within lakes by waves, currents,
and organo-chemical processes. Deposits consist of
unstratified organic clay or clay in central portions of
the lake and typically grade to stratified silts and
sands in the peripheries. Usually very uniform in
horizontal direction, fine-grained soils generally
They are largely soft, irregular in grading and
rounding; possess high void ratio which is related to
porosities of above 60%, low bulk densities and low
moisture content. Tensile strength of these soils is
found to be low because of their clay mineralogy
These soils consist mostly of silt with minor amounts
of sand and clay. Loess is the most common type of
windblown soils. Due to the method of deposition,
loess has an open (honeycomb) structure with very
high void ratios. The clay component of loess plays a
pivotal role because it acts as a binder (along with
calcium carbonate) holding the structure together.
However, upon wetting, the calcium carbonate bonds
dissolve or the negative pore pressures within the
clay reduce and the soil undergoes shear failures
and/or settlements.

Availability in Ethiopia
Present in large quantities in the west, southwest, north-west and western parts of
Ethiopia, and in well drained areas of other
parts of the country
Available in central, north-west and eastern
highlands and western lowlands. They are
fertile and used for agriculture. They are more
frequent in 0 - 2% slope range and are usually
found in landscapes of restricted drainage
such as seasonally inundated depressional
basins, alluvial and colluvial plains, undulated
plateaus, valleys and undulating side slopes.
Laterites and lateritic soils are present in the
western lowlands near the border to Sudan
and in some lowlands of the southern region.

Lacustrine deposits are common in the rift

valley, in various lowlands, and along river
basins. The group includes soils which have
been deposited in lakes and depressions and in
surrounding flood-plain.

The alluvial soils form a skeletal layer above

the lacustrine deposits in the rift valley of

Aeolian (windblown) sands in the form of

dunes are common in the Afar region.
Moreover, windblown loess deposits are
reported from the Lower Omo Basin in
southern Ethiopia. Aeolian soils are also
believed to be present in Somali region and in
north-eastern part of the country. In Ethiopia,
wind-blown sediments are characteristics of
relatively dry periods in the past.

These soils appear to be strong and stable in their

natural (dry) state, but rapidly consolidate under
wetting, generating large and often unexpected
settlements. The basic characteristics of collapsible
Collapsible soils
soils are categorized as high porosity (more than
40%), low saturation (less than 60%), high silt
content (more than 30%), and rapid softening in the

Most of the rift valley alluvial soils including

the aeolian deposits of the Lower Omo basin
are compressible and collapsible.

These soils deflocculate in the presence of relatively

pure water to form colloidal suspensions and are,
therefore, highly susceptible to erosion and piping.
Dispersive soils
They contain a high amount of sodium in their pore
water. Dispersive clays cannot be identified by
standard engineering index tests

Dispersive soils have not been definitively

associated with any specific geologic origin
but most have been found as alluvial clays in
the form of slope wash, lake bed sediments,
loess deposits, and flood plain silts and clays.
Dispersive soils are common in the rift valley,
in lowland areas, and in some places of the
highland where the annual rainfall is less than
1,000 mm.

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Aeolian (windblown) sands in the form of dunes are common in the Afar region.
Moreover, windblown loess deposits are reported from the Lower Omo Basin in southern
Ethiopia. Aeolian soils are also believed to be present in the Somali region and in the
north-eastern part of the country. In Ethiopia, wind-blown sediments are characteristic of
relatively dry periods in the past. In the Lower Omo Basin, the loess deposits contain a
predominance of silt accompanied by some clay and fine sand. The size proportion and the
alignment of soil grains indicate the general pattern of the wind direction in the past.
Aeolian silts have porosities in excess of 50%.
Most of the rift valley alluvial soils including the aeolian deposits of the Lower Omo basin
are compressible and collapsible. This originates from the fact that the soil grains are
loosely arranged and prone to considerable settlement due to minor changes in water
content. The high void ratio values are characteristic of soils that could collapse upon
wetting. Usually the soil collapse is caused by minor changes in water content or the
weakening of soil cement. The magnitude of soil collapsibility depends on initial porosity.
The basic characteristics of collapsible soils are categorized as high porosity (more than
40%), low saturation (less than 60%), high silt content (more than 30%), and rapid
softening in the water.
Dispersive soils are common in the rift valley, in lowland areas, and in some places of the
highlands. These soils deflocculate in the presence of relatively pure water to form
colloidal suspensions and are, therefore, highly susceptible to erosion and piping. They
contain a high amount of sodium in their pore water. However, there are no significant
differences in the clay contents of dispersive and non-dispersive soils. Dispersive soils can
derive from any rock, although in Ethiopia they are associated with volcanic rocks. They
are commonly found in regions where the annual rainfall is less than 1,000 mm. Suspicion
of their presence is indicated by the occurrence of erosion gullies and piping at unprotected
road shoulders and cuts, drainage ditches, and other surfaces from which vegetation has
been removed.

Land cover and land use

Ethiopia was once heavily wooded. Now most parts of the country are sparsely vegetated
with natural forests existing in some areas of the western and southern parts of the country
(Figure 2.6). The highlands are characterized by extensive cultivation. The central and
southern part of the rift valley is also a zone of agricultural activity.
As shown in Figure 2.6, a significant proportion of the country is classified as Bareland.
This is especially common in the eastern and north-eastern semi-arid and arid lowlands of
Afar and Somali regions. Grasslands are distributed throughout the country. In relatively
dry areas, the proportion of grass reduces and is replaced by patches of shrubs and bushes.
The intermediate zones between humid and semi-arid parts of the country are areas of
bushes and shrubs. The woodland areas are characterized by a more discontinuous canopy
and smaller trees than the high forest region. The escarpments along the rift valley are
areas where wooded grasslands are common. Portions of villages, towns and cities
consisting of planted eucalyptus trees around settlements are included in the woodland
regions. The high forest region is found mostly in the southwest and west. It consists of
coniferous forest in parts of the central and western highlands and of mixed tree species in
the southwest.

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Figure 2.6: Land cover and land use map of Ethiopia.

Most of the central and northern highlands are intensively cultivated for rain-fed
agriculture as well as livestock grazing. As shown in Figure 2.6, pockets of lands in these
locations are either barren or covered by grass. In these regions it is estimated that about
70% of the land is under annual crops during the rainy season. The grazing land is
intensively used, and in many cases very few trees are visible. In contrast, the land used for
agricultural in the central, southern and western part of the country contain patches of
natural forests or woodlands.
Wetlands that include large lakes and swampy areas also cover a significant percentage of
the country. In addition, the extent of urban and built-up areas is continually increasing
although the proportion of land used for this purpose is still relatively small.

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Investigation Methods and Techniques




This chapter contains information on site investigation methods and techniques including
the use of aerial photographs and remote sensing, geophysical methods, test pits, borings,
and in-situ tests. Usually, if a site investigation is to be effective, it must be carried out in a
systematic way using techniques that are relevant, reliable and cost-effective. The choice
of methods for site investigation is determined by the type of road project, the practical
problems arising from site conditions, and the terrain and climate. For any road project, it
is advisable to start investigations using standard methods with sophisticated and
expensive procedures being employed only when the nature of the geotechnical problem
has been determined. A wide variety of methods have been used for site investigation, and
Table 3.1 shows those used most frequently.
Table 3.1: Common site investigation techniques.

Desk study



Collation of available maps, references, reports, records. Background

Topographic and information on geological, geomorphological hydrological, vegetation
thematic maps
and climatic can be collected at this stage. May be used to define project
organization with respect to sites, materials, and project objectives.
Remote sensing


Tests pits
Field study
Auger boring


In situ testing

Ethiopian Roads Authority

May involve techniques ranging from aerial photography to satellite

imagery interpretation. Can be used for terrain evaluation and the
preliminary organization of projects into convenient sites or soil masses.
Seismic refraction is the most generally used procedure. Best utilized to
interpolate or extrapolate in situ conditions in conjunction with
boreholes. Caution required in cases where stronger material overlies
weak layers. Cross-hole seismic data can be correlated with geotechnical
parameters. The logging of boreholes by means of a suite of geophysical
procedures is now a well-established ground investigation procedure in
many projects. Other geophysical procedures utilized are resistivity,
gravity and magnetic.
May be either hand or machine dug. Particularly cost effective in the
examination and logging of material fabric and the delineation of mass
structure. Caution should be exercised in geotechnical interpretation of
areas where weak materials underlie strong layers. Very useful for
obtaining bulk undisturbed samples in sensitive materials.
This ranges from hand augers to machine driven hollow stem augers
with undisturbed sampling and in situ testing.
May be sunk by a number of percussion or rotary methods. The
techniques employed should be chosen to take into account the type and
condition of material involved. Special precautions and care should be
taken in attempting to recover undisturbed samples in sensitive soils or
those whose fabric is of geotechnical significance. In some locations,
options may be restricted by economic or access constraints.
Includes the currently utilized in situ ground investigation techniques
such as standard penetration testing (SPT), dynamic cone penetration
(DCP), pressure meter test (PMT), plate load pest, and vane shear test

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Investigation Methods and Techniques

Topographic and thematic maps

The initial phase of site investigations consists of a review of landforms and geological
conditions at the site and in its environs. This includes a desk study of topographic maps at
different scales. In Ethiopia, topographic maps prepared by the Ethiopian Mapping Agency
(EMA) are often published at scales of 1:250,000 and 1:50,000. Larger scale maps can be
prepared by the EMA and other private companies upon request. The information obtained
from topographic maps is useful as a guide for planning subsequent explorations. The
denoting of important features such as bench marks on topographic maps at an early stage
is often a requirement for road design. Later during the investigation all other features
should be marked on these maps, preferably aligned to a regional system of coordinates.
Thematic maps such as rainfall, geology, and geomorphological maps are also necessary
during site investigation. The presence of these maps and the information that can be
extracted from them can reduce the scope and financial requirement of the investigation.
Geologic maps should be examined prior to sub-surface investigation to provide a
reasonable idea of what may be encountered during construction. The Geological Survey
of Ethiopia provides a variety of maps and reports on the many aspects of the countrys
geology. Most of the geological maps are regional and encompass large areas, but could be
useful for the general assessment of the geology associated with the project site. Other
types of geologic and geomorphologic mapping also exist and are useful to use in the first
steps of a project. Rainfall data at daily, monthly and annual basis can be obtained from
National Metrological Agency of Ethiopia.

Remote Sensing

Remote sensing is the collection of data about an object with a device not in contact with
it. More commonly, the term refers to the imagery and image information derived from
airborne platforms and satellites carrying sensory equipment. Remote sensing data from
aerial photographs and satellite images can be used directly during road design to identify
terrain conditions, buried streams, site accessibility, right-of-way surveys and general soil
and rock formations. The aerial photographs are also helpful to prepare a digital elevation
model (DEM) of an area, with which three dimensional topographic features can easily be
Aerial photographs and satellite images can effectively be used to identify terrain
conditions, geologic formations, escarpments, site access conditions and the location of
construction materials. For example, soil formations can be interpreted from aerial photos
using drainage patterns. U-shaped gullies are found in stratified sandy or silty soils. A
broad gully is indicative of a clay or silty clay soil and V-shaped gullies are found in semigranular soils. A radial pattern indicates a hill or a volcanic cone. A parallel drainage
pattern is characteristics of a regionally sloping terrain or a system of faults and rock joints.
Whenever a drainage pattern appears rectangular, it is almost certain that rock stratum is
near the ground surface.
Aerial photography is also used for the following to provide important information at the
preliminary phase of road design:
Identification of ground phenomena that suggest instability which should be
avoided if possible when locating a new road.

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Areas susceptible to landslides are associated with steep scarps, hummocky

surfaces, depressions, disturbed drainage and vegetation conditions; and
Provision of up-to-dated information regarding current land use.

Aerial photographs are produced in black and white (panchromatic) or in colour. Many of
the aerial photographs in Ethiopia are available in black and white. Aerial photographs are
usually taken as flight strips with 60% or more overlap between pictures along the flight
line, and from 20 to 30% side overlap between parallel flight lines. On aerial photos, every
ground feature has a distinctive tonal signature. Thus, a road covered by cinder gravels
appears dark grey on panchromatic aerial photos. In contrast, when the gravels are from a
crushed limestone, the road appears light grey. The contrast is normally greater when
colour photos are used as they contain hue and chroma as well as tonal and textural
Practical scale recommendations for route surveys are 1:30,000 to 1:16,000 for desk study,
from 1:16,000 to 1:8,000 for preliminary survey, and 1:10,000 to 1:500 for detailed
investigation, with the exact scale determined by the type of information being sought.
Photographs taken in early times are obtained at scales in the range of 1:50,000 to
1:20,000. The choice of the scale depends upon the intended usage, the presence of cloud
and the extent it affects flying height, and the problems associated with scale distortion and
its acceptable limits. Aerial photos in Ethiopia can be purchased from the Ethiopian
Mapping Agency.
Interpretation of aerial photographs and other remote sensed data require considerable
experience and skill, and the results obtained depend on the proficiency of the interpreter.
Spot checking in the field is an essential element in any photo-interpretation and accuracy
is often limited where dense vegetation obscures ground features.
Although locally available aerial photographs are sufficient for a standard ground survey at
any stage of a road project, satellite images can also be used at the planning phase or at
early stage of the design. For roads, regional investigations using LANDSAT images are
normally good enough. Other images such as SPOT and IKONOS are relatively expensive.
Standard LANDSAT image comes approximately at a scale of 1:100,000, although
enlargements are also available. These images provide a broad view of the terrain, and are
useful to understand the regional geology, landforms, drainage, vegetation cover, and land
use at the time of route selection or when realignment is considered during construction.
A digital elevation model (DEM) is a digital representation of the ground surface. Recent
developments in technology allow the use of radar technology to generate DEMs.
Alternatively, DEMs can be produced from stereoscopic pairs of aerial photographs. Older
methods of developing DEMs often involve interpolating digital contour maps obtained by
direct surveys of the land surface. This method is still used in mountainous areas, where
interferometry is less satisfactory due to terrain roughness.
The use of DEMs range from extracting terrain parameters to modelling landslides,
creation of relief maps, 3D visualizations, and rectification of aerial photography or
satellite imagery. Some simulation techniques such as elevation-flattening applied to a
selected sloppy area on a DEM produces terraces similar to those created by actual earthmoving equipment. Moreover, moderate Gaussian blur applied to road selections removes
excess height from elevated protrusions and adds data to bisected valleys, creating virtual
road cuts and fills.
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Geophysical methods

Geophysical methods are used as part of the preliminary site investigation phase of a road
project or to supplement the information collected by other exploration programmes. They
can be used for establishing stratification of subsurface materials, the depth to the bedrock,
level of groundwater, limits of soil deposits, the presence of voids and buried pipes, and
depths of existing foundations. They can also be used to assess the depth of excavation and
Geophysical methods offer some advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are they
are non-invasive (can be carried out from the surface or exiting boreholes) and nondestructive (do not alter soil conditions). They can also provide information between data
points (e.g. boreholes). The surveys can usually be performed quickly and cover a
relatively large areas at a reasonable cost. The disadvantages are that the methods require
expensive equipment and skilled operators.
Geophysics also assumes sub-horizontal layering or boundaries, and provides no samples.
It is also difficult to develop good stratigraphic profiles where hard material overlies weak
rocks. For all these reasons, the interpretation of a geophysical survey must always be
confirmed by boreholes. Geophysical data should also be interpreted by a professional in
the field with a background in road engineering.
There are different kinds of geophysical methods. Table 3.2 provides a summary of these
methods and their significance in engineering. The selection of these methods depends on
regional and local site conditions, the purpose of investigation, time and cost. For road
design, the most commonly used methods are seismic refraction and electrical resistivity.

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Table 3.2: Comparison of Geophysical Methods



Basic field procedures

Impact load is applied to the
ground surface. Seismic
energy refracts off the soil or
rock layer interfaces and the
time of arrival is recorded on
the ground surface using
several dozen geophones
positioned along a line or
performing repeated events
using a single geophone.

Spectralanalysis of
surface waves

Impact load is applied to the

ground surface. Surface
waves propagate along the
ground surface and are
recorded on the ground
surface with two geophones
positioned along a line.


DC current is applied to the

ground by electrodes.
Voltages are measured at
different points on the
ground surface with other
electrodes positioned along a

radar (GPR)


Electromagnetic energy is
pulsed into the ground.
This energy reflects off
boundaries between different
soil layers and is measured
at the ground surface.

The earths gravitational

field is measured at the
ground surface.



Depth to bedrock
Depth to water table
Thickness and
relative stiffness of
soil or rock layers.

Does not work if

stiffness decreases with
depth or if soft layer
underlies stiff layer.

Depth to bedrock
Measurement of
shear wave velocity
Thickness and
stiffness of surface
pavement layer
Qualitative indicator
of cracking in

Depth to water table

contamination and
Soil layer thickness
Delineation of
certain features (e.g.,
sinkholes, waste
Depth to water table
Identification of
buried objects
Thickness of
pavement layers
Void detection
Identification of
large subsurface
Identification of
large objects
possessing unusually
high or low densities

Resolution decreases
significantly with
increasing depth
Accurate interpretation
may require a
significant amount of
Interpretation is difficult
if a stiff layer overlies a
soft layer and soft layer
properties are desired
Slow; must install
electrodes directly in the
Resolution decreases
significantly with
increasing depth
Resolution is difficult in
highly heterogeneous
Not effective below the
water table or in clay
Depth of penetration is
limited to about 10 m


The earths magnetic field is

measured at the ground

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Identification of
ferrous materials
Identification of soil
and rock containing
large amounts of
magnetic minerals

Results are non-unique

(i.e. more than one
subsurface condition
can give the same
Primarily, large-scale
surveying tool
Applications in road
engineering are limited
Results are non-unique
Primarily a large-scale
reconnaissance tool
Applications in road
engineering are limited

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Seismic refraction

This method is illustrated in Figure 3.1 and utilizes the fact that seismic waves travel at
different velocities in different materials. In rock and soil masses, the velocity increases
with an increase in substance strength and compactness or consolidation. Seismic
refraction using shear waves is the method most commonly used for delineation of
boundaries between soil and weathered rock, and within weathered rocks. The method is
becoming increasingly popular for road site investigation and general geotechnical
engineering practice as it has the potential to provide quantitative data regarding the shear
wave velocity of the subsurface materials.

Figure 3.1: Illustration of the Geophysical Seismic Refraction Method.

The shear wave velocity is directly related to small-strain material stiffness, which in turn,
is often correlated to material strength, and soil and rock types. However, seismic
refraction can only be used when the velocity of wave propagation increases in the
successively deeper strata. Hence, it doesnt detect velocity inversions. Therefore, if a hard
rock overlies a weak material, or if the underlying material is a thin layer of less
consolidated soil, it is very difficult to identify the boundary between the two using this
method. Complications also sometimes arise in loose deposits where the velocity of
transmission increases gradually with depth.

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Electrical resistivity

The electrical resistivity method (Figure 3.2) measures the resistance of the ground to
induced electrical current. Interpretation assumes a horizontally layered model. The
method has been used to locate fault zones, zones of deep weathering and cavities. It can
also be used in the exploration of alluvial deposits where permeable gravel and sand beds
can be distinguished from low permeability clays or rocks. This capability has been applied
in searches for construction materials beneath alluvial terraces. The resistivity of sound
igneous rocks is far higher than that of loose saturated soils. However, some dry
sedimentary deposits can have fairly high resistivity. Resistivity depends mainly on the
quantity and ionization of the water contained in the subsoil, and to a lesser degree on the
mineralogical composition.

Figure 3.2: The Basic Installation of Electrical Resistivity Apparatus

In valleys, the results of resistivity surveys are affected by the irregular terrain and by
changes in the electrical properties of dry materials on the valley sides and the wet material
beneath the valley floor. Resistivity methods have been used in route investigations and
can give useful results when the ground conditions are favourable. However, in many cases
the results are disappointing either because the strata boundaries offer insufficient contrast,
or because there are natural anomalies such as caverns and solution cavities present.

Pits and Trenches

Test pits and trenches are used to examine and sample soils in situ for the determination of
the thickness of the top part of the subsurface and depth to groundwater. Exploration pits
permit detailed examination of the soil and rock conditions at shallow depths and relatively
low cost. They are an important part of site investigation where significant variations in
soil conditions occur, soil materials with boulders and debris exist that cannot be sampled
with conventional methods, or buried features must be identified. Table 3.3 compares the
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different types of pits related to their use and limitations. They range from manual to
machine excavated holes. In addition to being a low cost investigation option, the soil
profiles are visible and can be logged and photographed, undisturbed samples can be
collected, in-situ tests can be carried out, and the strength of the sub-grade can be
determined from the resistance of the ground.
It must however be stressed that all reasonable safety precautions must be adhered to when
excavating and logging pits and trenches. Suitable safety equipment and adequate shoring
of deeper pits and trenches should be provided. Under no circumstances should personnel
be allowed to enter pits or trenches for observation, logging and sampling purposes if
unstable ground is suspected. In such circumstances the risks must be evaluated (risk
assessment) and mitigated (signed off) by a qualified and experienced professional. In the
absence of an Ethiopian guideline, documentation such as the SAICE (South African
Institute of Civil Engineers) code of practice: "The safety of persons working in small
diameter shafts and test pits for geotechnical engineering purposes" should be followed.
Table 3.3: Comparison of Different Types of Test Pit and Trenching Methods

General Use



Handexcavated test
pits and shafts

Bulk sampling, in-situ

testing, visual inspection.

Provides data in
inaccessible areas, less
mechanical disturbance
of surrounding ground.

Time-consuming, limited to
depths above groundwater

test pits and

Bulk sampling in-situ

testing, visual inspection,
excavation rates, depth of
bedrock and groundwater.

Fast, economical,
generally less than 3 m
deep, can be up to 6 m

Equipment access, generally

limited to depths above
groundwater level, limited
undisturbed sampling.

Drilled shafts

Pre-excavation for piles

and shafts, landslide
investigations, and
drainage wells.

Fast, more economical

than hand excavated,
minimum 750 mm
diameter maximum 2 m

Equipment access, difficult to

obtain undisturbed samples
casing may obscure visual
inspection, and costly

Dozer cuts

Bedrock characteristics,
depth of bedrock and
groundwater level, ripability, increase depth
capability of backhoes,
level area for other
exploration equipment.

Relatively low cost,

exposures for geologic

Exploration limited to depth

above groundwater level.

The depth of the exploration pit is determined by the purpose of the investigation, but is
typically about 2 3 metres. In areas with high groundwater level, the depth of the pit may
be limited by the water table. Exploration pit excavations are generally unsafe and
uneconomical at depths greater than 5 metres. Pits should be backfilled and compacted
after investigation. It may be possible to leave pits open for an inspection, but in this case
fencing is required.
During excavation, the sides of the pit should be cleaned by chipping continuously in
vertical bands, or by other appropriate methods so as to expose a clean face of soil or
weathered rock. Survey control at exploration pits should be done to accurately determine
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the ground surface elevation and plan locations of the exploration pit. Measurements
should be taken and records should include the orientation, plan dimensions and depth of
the pit, and the depths and the thicknesses of each stratum exposed in the pit. In logging
the exploration pit, a vertical profile should be made parallel with one pit wall. After the pit
is logged, the pit may be photographed or video logged. Photographs should be located
with reference to project stationing and baseline elevation. A visual scale should be
included in each photo or video.
A logical extension of the use of test pits is the excavation of trenches, which provide
continuous exposures where there is little natural outcrop. Trenches are especially useful to
investigate cut slopes, valley sides and bridge abutments where lateral variations in
material conditions are expected. Trench exposures are logged in a similar manner to test


The main objective of boring is to extend the knowledge obtained from surface mapping,
test pits and trenches below the depth limitations of these methods and to provide control
for the interpretation of any geophysical investigations. Boring is also useful to provide
samples from these greater depths and access for test equipment. Boring has little effect on
the environment. Holes can be easily covered, backfilled or neatly preserved. Surface
disruption is commonly restricted to the preparation of a boring pad on sloping ground.
Boring has the disadvantage that information obtained is almost always indirect, either
from the observation of resistance to rig penetration, by the measurement of in situ
properties with equipment lowered down the hole, or by the logging of samples recovered.
Direct observation of the ground is restricted to the use of down-the-hole-camera,
television or other techniques.
In the design and construction of roads boring is necessary only in certain circumstances
such as when there is a need to investigate major bridge foundations and drainage
structures, in areas where landslides are common and realignment is difficult, and when
unforeseen problems are encountered in the sub-grade or road cuts. In such cases, boring
up to the depth of sound rock is often necessary to obtain adequate information.
There are different methods to perform borings in soils. Some of these methods are
summarized in Table 3.4. The method used should be compatible with the soil and
groundwater conditions to ensure that soil samples of suitable quality are obtained. Below
the groundwater level, drilling fluids are often needed to stabilize sidewalls and the bottom
of the boring in soft clays or cohesionless soils. Without stabilization, the bottom of the
hole may heave or the sidewalls may contract, either disturbing the soil prior to sampling
or preventing the sampler from advancing down. In most investigations, borings are
performed with solid and hollow-stem augers, or rotary wash boring methods.

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Table 3.4: Soils and Soft Rock Boring Methods




Auger boring

Dry hole drilled with hand

or power auger; samples
recovered from auger

In soil and soft rock; to

identify geologic units and
water content above water

Soil and rock stratification

destroyed; sample mixed
with water below the water

auger boring

Hole advanced by hollowstem auger; soil sampled

below auger as in auger
boring above.

Typically used in soils

that would require casing
to maintain an open hole
for sampling.

Sample limited by larger

gravel; maintaining
hydrostatic balance in hole
below water table is


Involves light chopping and

strong jetting of soil;
cuttings removed by
circulating fluid and
discharged into settling tub.

Soft to stiff cohesive

materials and fine to
coarse granular soils.

Coarse material tends to

settle to bottom of hole;
should not be used in
boreholes above water table
where undisturbed samples
are desired.

Bucket auger

A 0.6 to 1.2 m diameter

drilling bucket with cutting
teeth is rotated and
advanced. When each
advance is completed, the
bucket is retrieved from the
boring and soil is emptied
on the ground.

Most soils above water

table; can dig harder soils
than above types and can
penetrate soils with
cobbles and boulders if
equipped with a rock

Not applicable in running

sands; used for obtaining
large volumes of disturbed
samples and where it is
necessary to enter a boring
to make observations.

Rotary wash

Power rotation of drilling bit

as circulating fluid removes
cutting from the hole.
Changes indicated by rate of
progress, action of drilling
tools, and examination of
cutting in drilling fluid.
Casing usually not required
except near the surface

Applicable to all soils

except those containing
much large gravel,
cobbles, and boulders.
Applications are
increasing since it is
usually the most rapid
method of advancing a

Difficult to determine
changes accurately in some
soil strata. Not practical in
inaccessible locations
because of heavy truck
mounted equipment. Soil
samples and rock cores are
usually limited to 150 mm.


Power chopping with

limited amount of water at
the bottom of the hole.
Water becomes slurry and
should be periodically
removed with bailer or sand
pump. Changes known by
rate of progress, action of
drilling tools, and
composition of the slurry.
Casing required except in
stable rock

Used in combination with

auger or wash borings for
penetration of coarse
gravel, boulders and rock
formations, useful to
probe cavities and
weakness in rock by
changes in drill rate

Not preferred for ordinary

exploration or when
undisturbed samples are
required because of
difficulty in determining
strata changes, disturbance
caused below chopping bit,
difficulty of access, and
usually higher cost.

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3.8.1 Auger boring

An auger is an apparatus with a helical shaft that can be manually or mechanically
advanced to bore a hole in soil. The practice of advancing a borehole with a mechanical
auger consists of rotating the auger while applying a downward pressure to penetrate soil
and weak rocks. The auger may be continuous, where the helix extends along the entire
length of the shaft, or discontinuous when the auger helix is at the bottom of the drill stem.
The most common type of boring in cohesive soils uses a spiral flight auger to penetrate
and remove the material below the surface. The simplest form is a hand auger which is
usually restricted to about 3m by the physical effort involved. Hand driven augers are often
used to obtain shallow subsurface information from sites with difficult access or terrain
where vehicle accessibility is not possible. Several types of hand augers are available with
the standard post hole type barrel auger as the most common. In stable cohesive soils, hand
augers can be advanced up to 5m or a little more. Maintaining an open hole in granular
soils is often difficult. Boulders and cobbles, if present, will create significant problems.
Most augers are power driven. The common power driven auger rig equipped with either
100mm or 150mm diameter solid or hollow flight augers can reach up to 30m in relatively
hard soils. A steel blade V bit will penetrate most fine-grained soils and very weak
rocks. A tungsten-carbide bit will grind slowly through weak and medium strong rock.
Auger boring allows the logging of disturbed material collected from the flights during
drilling. By removal of the augers, it is practical to regularly recover tube samples and
carryout in situ testing of the material properties. Auger boring is suited to the
investigation of areas with thick soil deposits which extend beyond the practical limit of
pits and trenches. In many cases, it is used as a rapid method of establishing the depth and
general properties of the material overlying rock. A major difficulty in auger boring in
cohesion-less soils or soft clays is the stability of the sides of the drill hole particularly
below groundwater.
Solid stem augers are generally limited to stiff cohesive soils where the boring walls are
stable for the entire depth of boring. The auger must be removed from the borehole to
allow access to the hole for sampling or testing devices. Because the auger must be
periodically removed from the borehole, a solid stem auger is not appropriate in sands and
soft soils or in soil deposits where groundwater is close to the surface. A drill bit is
attached to the leading section of flight to cut the soil. The flights act as a screw conveyor,
bringing cuttings to the top of the hole. Additional augers are added as the auger drills into
the earth.
Hollow stem augers are very similar to solid stem augers except, as the name suggests,
they have a large hollow centre. Both augers have the auger flights continuous along the
entire length of the auger. For both of these types of auger the drill cuttings are returned to
the ground surface via the auger flights. Hollow stem augers are commonly used in clay
soils or in granular soils above the groundwater level where the boring walls may be
unstable. The auger has a circular hollow core that allows for sampling through the centre
of the auger. The augers form a temporary casing to allow sampling below the bit. The
cuttings produced from this boring method are mixed as they move up the auger flights and
are, therefore, of limited use for visual observation purposes. This should be noted during
soil description.

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3 .8.2 Wash type boring

Wash-type borings use circulating drilling fluid (e.g. water or mud) to remove cuttings
from the borehole. Cuttings are created by the chopping, twisting, and jetting action of the
drill bit that breaks the soil or rock into small fragments. Tri-cone bits are often used in
dense soil or soft rock. If bentonite cannot be used, casings are often necessary to prevent
cave-in. The use of a casing requires a significant amount of additional time but results in a
protected borehole. When drilling-mud is used during subsurface boring, it is difficult to
classify the soil from the auger cuttings because of contamination with the mud. The
properties of the drilling fluid and the quantity of water pumped through the drill bit
determine the size of particles that can be removed from the boring with the circulating
fluid. In formations containing gravels, cobbles, or larger particles, coarse material may be
left at the bottom of the boring. In these instances, cleaning the bottom of the boring with a
larger diameter sampler may be needed to obtain a representative sample of the formation.
3 .8.3 Rotary wash boring
The rotary wash boring method is generally the most appropriate method for use in soil
formations below the groundwater level. In rotary wash boring, the sides of the borehole
are supported either with the use of a drilling fluid or casing. When a drill casing is used,
the boring is advanced sequentially by first driving the casing to the desired sample depth,
and then cleaning out the hole to the bottom of the casing, inserting the sampling device,
and finally obtaining the sample from below the bottom of the casing. The casing is usually
selected based on the outside diameter of the sampling and stiffness considerations.
Where drilling fluids are used to stabilize the borehole walls, the casing should still be
employed at the top of the hole to protect against ground sloughing. In addition to
stabilizing the borehole walls, the drilling fluid (commonly water and bentonite) also
removes the drill cuttings from the boring. In granular soils and soft cohesive soils,
bentonite is typically used to increase the weight of the fluid and minimize soil stress
reduction at the bottom of boring. For borings advanced with the use of fluids, it is
important to maintain the level of the fluid at or above the ground surface to maintain a
positive pressure for the full depth of boring.
The properties of the drilling fluid and the quantity of water pumped through the bit
determine the size of particles that can be removed from the boring. Examination of the
materials suspended in the wash fluid and the drill cuttings provides an opportunity to
identify changes in soil conditions between sample locations. In some instances (especially
with uncased holes) the drilling fluid return is reduced or lost. This is indicative of open
joints, cavities, gravel layers, high permeable zones, and other rock conditions that may
cause a sudden loss in pore fluid and must be noted on the logs and described accordingly.
3 .8.4 Drilling in rock
Rock core drilling procedures are used when formations are encountered that are too hard
to be sampled by soil sampling methods mentioned above. This could for instance be the
case in bridge foundation investigation for drilled shafts and piles. Defining the top of a
rock stratum from soil boring operations can be difficult when large boulders exist deep
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below river beds. A penetration of 25mm or less by a 51mm diameter split-barrel sampler
following 50 blows using standard penetration energy or other criteria established by a
geotechnical engineer should indicate that soil sampling methods are not applicable and
rock drilling or coring is required. In many instances, geophysical methods, such as
seismic refraction, can be used to assist in evaluating the top of rock elevations in an
expedient and economical manner.
Drilling into rocks can be performed by either a rotary or percussion system. Rotary coring
is most commonly used when an intact core of the rock is desired. The drilling bits are
specifically designed to core rock, and the inner and outer tubes or casings are used to
capture the intact core. Percussion drilling is often used to penetrate hard rock. The drill bit
works much like a jackhammer, rising and falling to break up and crush the rock material.
Air is commonly used to clean the hole and transport the cuttings to the ground surface.
Rotary rock coring can be accomplished with either conventional or wire-line equipment.
With conventional drilling equipment, the entire string of rods and core barrel are brought
to the surface after each core run to retrieve the rock core. Wire-line drilling equipment
allows the inner tube to be uncoupled from the outer tube and lifted rapidly to the surface
by means of a wire line hoist. The main advantage of wire-line drilling over conventional
drilling is the increased drilling production resulting from the rapid removal of the core
from the hole.
Wire-line drilling also provides improved quality of recovered core, particularly in soft
rock, since it avoids rough handling of the core barrel during retrieval of the barrel from
the borehole and when the core barrel is opened. Wire-line drilling can be used on any rock
coring job. Typically, it is used on projects where boreholes are greater than 25m deep and
rapid removal of the core from the hole has a greater implication on cost. Wire-line drilling
is also an effective method for both rock and soil exploration though cobbles and boulders.

Pit, Trench and Boring Logs

Field logs of pits, trenches and borings are basic records that contain the descriptions of
exploration procedures and subsurface conditions encountered during excavation. For this
reason, logs should be prepared in a standard format that is simple and comprehensive. The
formats to be used for a given type of logging depend on local practices.
The information that needs to be recorded in pit and trench logs is:
The name of the road project;
Client and Consultant name (including Contractors name for construction);
Absolute (geographic) locations of the pit or trench (with coordinates if available);
The total depth of the pit or the length of trench;
Road chainage;
Relative position and offset of the pit from the proposed centreline;
The descriptions of soils (consistency, moisture, density, geologic origin); and
Soil sampling interval and depth.

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Likewise, in addition to the above information, boring logs should contain:

Records on borehole and casing diameter;
Boring orientation and total depth;
The types and depths of soil and rock strata;
Engineering description of rocks;
Comparative resistance to boring;
Type of drilling operation used to advance and stabilize the hole;
Sampler type;
Total and solid core recovery;
Loss of drilling fluid;
The depth to steady level of groundwater;
The name of the individual who has provided the description;
The person that approved the accuracy of the total input, and
Any other remarks and observations.
Photographs should also be taken of the test pit and boring locations, as well of the soil
horizons in the test pit. This will help revising the interpretation during design. Selected,
representative photographs should also be included in the site investigation report. Samples
of pit and boring log templates are given in Tables 3.5 and 3.6. These templates are used in
this document simply to provide the reader with an idea of the basic information that
should be included in a boring log. Specific projects are likely to require more detailed log
Table 3.5: Example of a Pit Log
Project name


Project No.


Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA)



Total pit depth (m)



Position from centreline



Elevation (m)

Offset from centreline (m)


Logged by
Depth (m)

Inspected by

Clay, with some sands and gravels, very dark (black) at the top but becomes reddish
downward, slightly weathered, stiff, plastic,
Colluvium, dark brown, slightly weathered and discoloured, dense

Tuff, , light yellow to grey, slightly weathered and discoloured, dense

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Table 3.6: Example of a Standard Boring Log

Borehole log description
Project Name
Project (Contract) No.
Borehole No
Road Chainage
Starting date
Ending date

depth (m)










Logged by:

Borehole orientation
Borehole length (m)
Starting BH diameter (mm)
Finishing BH diameter (mm)
Casing diameter (mm)
Drilling method
Core tube
Core barrel size (rocks)

Inspected by:


Blows Drive



Loose sand with

rounded gravels of
basalt and rubbles of


Dark brown, slightly

plastic clayey sand with
sub-rounded cobbles of





Sand mixed with 4050%, large (2cm in

diameter), sub-rounded
limestone cobbles, very
loose and



Limestone cobbles with

10-20% gravel, highly
rounded and loose





Ethiopian Road Authority

Core recovery ratio (%)



Sheet 1 of X


Loose sand with

cobbles of basalt with a
5cm basalt core at the
Brown clayey sand
with cobbles of basalt
and limestone


Sample details



Soil samples obtained from surface and subsurface investigations for engineering tests are
either disturbed or undisturbed. Disturbed samples are those obtained using equipment that
destroy the structure of the soil but do not alter its composition. Sources can be pits,
trenches, auger flights or rotary boring techniques. Disturbed samples are usually collected
using split-barrel samplers or continuous helical flight augers. Specimens from these
samples can be used for identification of soil components, general classification purposes,

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and determination of some engineering characteristics such as grain size, consistency limits
and compaction.
Undisturbed samples consist of material which is extracted from the site and transported to
the laboratory with a minimum disturbance. Undisturbed soil samples are required for
performing laboratory strength and consolidation tests on cohesive soils having
consistencies ranging from soft to stiff. High-quality samples for such tests are particularly
important for approach embankments and for structural foundations and wall systems that
may stress compressible strata. The goal of high-quality undisturbed sampling is to
minimize the potential for alteration of the soil structure and changes in moisture content
or void ratio.
The ideal undisturbed sample is a cube of soil specimen, hand cut from a test pit or trench,
carefully packed and sealed on site and transported to the laboratory without delay.
However, due to economic factors and the limitations of depth of test pits, it is more usual
to use different size thin-walled steel tubes (Shelby tubes) to obtain samples of soft to
stiff cohesive soils from boreholes. The tubes are pushed into the soil using an adaptor
connected to the drill rods. Common thin walled tube sizes are 50mm, 63mm, and 75mm.
Samples should be identified and sealed against moisture loss using either a sample tube
sealing device or layers of molten wax as soon as the sample is recovered from the hole.
Undisturbed samples should preferably be tested within two weeks of sampling as they rust
into the tube and dry out. On extrusion in the laboratory, a proportion of undisturbed
samples often prove to have been partly disturbed by the sampling process and it is prudent
to take enough samples to allow for this. If possible, all specimens should be kept and
photographed for an inspection by the pavement design engineer for tendering purposes
and use during construction.
In rock coring, the dimensions and types of core barrel, type of coring bit, and drilling fluid
are important variables. The minimum depth of rock coring should be determined based on
the local geology of the site and the type of structure to be constructed. There are single,
double and triple barrels to take a core from a rock. Since the double core barrel isolates
the rock from the drilling fluid stream to yield better recovery, it is the minimum standard
of core barrel that should be used in practice when an intact core is required for testing.
Rock is sampled with core barrels having either tungsten-carbide or diamond core bits.
Rock coring can be performed in different core sizes. The standard size is the NX, which
has a diameter of 54 mm. Generally, large core sizes will lead to less mechanical breakage
and yield greater recovery, but the associated cost for drilling will be much higher. Since
the size of the core affects the percentage recovery, the core barrel size should be clearly
recorded on the log. Additionally, the core barrel length can increase recovery in fractured
and weathered rocks. In these rocks, a core barrel length of 1.5m is recommended. Core
barrel lengths should not be greater than 3m because of the potential for damage.
In many instances, clear water is used as a drilling fluid in rock coring. Sometimes, drilling
mud is required instead of clean water to stabilize collapsing holes or to seal zones where
there is loss of drill water. However, drilling mud clogs open joints and fractures and can
adversely affect permeability measurements and piezometer installations.
The suitability of cores for structural foundations depends on the quality of cores measured
as core recovery. The core recovery (CR) is the length of rock recovered from a core run.
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Investigation Methods and Techniques

The recovery ratio is the ratio of the length of core recovered to the total length of the core
drilled on a given run, expressed as a percentage. It is an indication of soundness and
degree of weathering of rocks and an important parameter for foundation design.
The rock quality designation (RQD) is a quantitative measure that represents a modified
core recovery percentage. By definition, the RQD is the sum of the lengths of all pieces of
sound core over 100mm long divided by the length of the core run. The RQD is an index
of rock quality. Problematic rocks (highly weathered, soft, fractured, sheared, and jointed)
typically yield lower RQD values than more intact rocks. Thus, RQD is simply a
measurement of the percentage of sound rock recovered from an interval in a borehole. It
should be noted that the original definition of RQD was based on measurements made on
NX-size cores.
All borings should be properly closed at the completion of the field exploration. This is
typically required for safety considerations and to prevent groundwater contamination.


In-situ tests

In many cases it is preferable to describe or measure the properties of soils and rocks at the
investigation site. This can be done with the help of in-situ tests. In pavement design, insitu tests can be used to rapidly evaluate the variability of sub-grade conditions, identify
uniform sections, locate regions that require sampling and testing, and provide estimates of
design values.
For sub-surface investigation, the most utilized in-situ methods are the standard penetration
test (SPT), the dynamic cone penetrometer (DCP), and the cone penetrometer test (CPT).
DCP and CPT especially offer more efficient and rapid way of sub-grade characterization
and have a greater reliability than SPT. Other in-situ tests, such as pressure meter (PM) and
dilatometer test (DMT), are also useful to obtain in-situ design properties, but are time
intensive and require special skilled personnel. The vane shear test (VST) measures the
undrained shear strength of soft to firm clays and is useful in stability analyses of cuts and
The SPT is useful to estimate the relative density, effective friction angle, deformation
modulus of cohesionless soils, and to assess the liquefaction potential of saturated sands.
The DCP and CPT provide information on subsurface soils, without sampling disturbance
effects, with data collected continuously on a real-time basis. In situ strength
characteristics at the prevailing density and moisture content are obtained as the DCP or
CPT progresses. Since all measurements are taken in the field and there are no samples to
be tested, it is possible to save considerable cost. However, it should be noted that where
pavement design methods and catalogues are based on soaked CBR strength, the predicted
CBR from the in situ DCP rate of penetration should be used with care.
DCP is more qualitative than CPT. It is performed with low cost, lightweight equipment,
and a few personnel, and is suitable for general assessment as described in Table 3.7. the
DCP is an excellent tool to perform initial exploration of pavement surfaces in
rehabilitation projects (Appendix A). Results of DCP tests from the main pavement can
also be compared to those in the shoulders for road widening and upgrading projects. The
DCP can also be an effective tool to evaluate the suitability of the sub-grade after cut, fill,
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or stabilization, although it is only useful for identifying variations in the upper part of the
Table 3.7: Common In-Situ Tests for Foundation Investigation
Type of test

Penetration Test

Dynamic Cone

suitable for

May not be
applicable for

Sand and

results in
saturated silt.

Sand, Silt
and Clay

Clay with
gravel content.
materials .

Sand, Silt
(static cone) Test and Clay

Properties that can be

determined for road design
and construction
Crude estimate of modulus in
sand. Disturbed samples for
identification and classification.
Evaluation of density for

Test best suited for
sands. Estimated clay
shear strengths are
crude and should not
be used for design.

Qualitative correlation to CBR. Good to evaluate the

Identify spatial variation in sub- sub-grade, cut and
grade soil and stratification.

Undrained shear strength and

correlation to CBR in clays,
density and strength of sand
and gravel. Evaluation of subgrade soil type, vertical strata
limits, and groundwater level.

Use piezocone for

pore pressure data.
Tests in clay are
reliable only when
used in conjunction
with other calibration

CPT provides more quantitative results, can be correlated directly to design properties and
types of sub-grade, and can be used to greater depths in fine grained and sand type soils
than the DCP. CPT is useful to obtain estimates of the relative density, effective friction
angle, drained Youngs Modulus (E) of cohesionless soils, and the undrained shear
strength of soft cohesive soils. The CPT is particularly useful in alluvial foundations where
sandy soils are inter-layered with clays as the instrument is able to detect the layering
better than most boring techniques. The CPT has been used successfully to locate softened
zones, and it is best suited to define the subsurface stratigraphy. The test is also relatively
consistent and repeatable.
Each investigation method listed above has advantages and limitations that should be
considered when planning a subsurface investigation. The results from SPT are for
instance highly variable and uncertain, and the method cannot be used in soft clays and
silts. DCP is an index test where no samples are obtained. It is highly variable in gravelly
soils and limited in depth to about 1m, although this depth is adequate for most
rehabilitation projects and good for rapid surface characterization. In some instances,
extraction of the cone can also be difficult after the test. The drawback of CPT is the lack
of samples and limitations with pushing past obstructions. It requires a skilled operator to
run, is affected by electronic drift and noise, and is unsuitable for gravel or boulder
deposits unless a special rig is attached.
The relevance of each in-situ test also depends on the type of the road, the problem at
hand, the stage in design, and, as shown in Table 3.7, the material types encountered
during site investigation.

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Soil and Rock Description and Classification




Description is the process of visual observation and estimation of the relative percentage of
each component of a soil or rock to accurately explain and identify the material being
investigated and sampled. It is mainly carried out in the field but may be refined in the
laboratory. Classification is a laboratory-based process of grouping soils and rocks with
similar engineering characteristics. During pitting, trenching or boring, the engineer
describes the soils encountered. Samples are later returned to the laboratory where
classification may be carried out based on the measured properties.

Soil description

Soil description is the systematic identification and complete naming of individual soils. In
site investigation, a thorough and accurate description of soils is important in establishing
general engineering properties for the design of the road and anticipated behaviour during
construction. Soils are described in accordance with AASHTO M 145 or ASTM D 2488.
The description of the soil should include the following:
Apparent consistency (e.g. soft, firm, etc for fine-grained soils) or density
adjectives (e.g. loose, dense, etc. for coarse-grained soils);
Water content condition adjective (e.g. dry, moist or wet);
Colour description (e.g. brown, grey etc.);
Main soil type name (e.g. sand, clay, silt or combinations);
Descriptive adjective for main soil type (e.g. for coarse-grained soils: fine, medium,
coarse, well-rounded, angular, etc., for fine-grained soils: organic; inorganic,
compressible, laminated, etc.);
Particle-size distribution adjective for gravel and sand (e.g. uniform or wellgraded);
Plasticity adjective (e.g. high or low) and soil texture (e.g. rough, smooth, slick,
waxy, etc.) for inorganic and organic silts or clays;
Descriptive term for minor type(s) of soil (with, some, trace, etc.);
Minor soil type name if the fine-grained minor component is less than 30 % but
greater than 12 %; or the coarse-grained minor component is 30 % or more (e.g.
silty for fine grained, sandy for coarse-grained minor soil type);
Descriptive adjective with if the fine-grained minor soil type is 5 to 12 % (e.g.
with clay) or if the coarse-grained minor soil type is less than 30 % but 15 % or
more (e.g. with gravel);
Inclusions (e.g. concretions or cementation).
Additional information that may be included in the soil description form includes apparent
consistency (for fine-grained soils) or a density adjective (for coarse-grained soils),
geologic origin, the presence of roots and any sign of organic matter, and the existence of
mica, gypsum, salt, etc. The following is an example of a complete soil description.
Clayey gravel with sand and cobbles; approximately 50 % coarse, sub-rounded to subangular gravel; about 30 % fine to coarse, sub-rounded, less strong sand; roughly 20 %
fines with medium plasticity, high dry strength, no dilatancy, medium toughness; dark

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brown, relatively dry, weak reaction with HCl; original field sample had about 5 % (by
volume) sub-rounded cobbles with maximum size of 150 mm.
Sometimes, short descriptions can be used in local practice where much of the above detail
is difficult to obtain. When this is the case, a simple form of describing a fine grained soil
could be: soft, wet, grey, high plasticity clay with fine alluvial sand. A coarse grained soil
is described in the same manner as dense, moist, brown, silty sand with an appreciable
amount of gravel.

Coarse grained soils

Coarse-grained soils consist of a matrix of either gravel or sand in which more than 50%
by weight of the soil is retained on the 75 micron (m) sieve. Coarse-grained soils may
contain fine-grained soil (i.e. soils passing the 75 m sieve) but the percentage by weight
of the fine-grained portion is less than 50%. The gravel and sand components are defined
on the basis of particle size as indicated in Table 4.1. The particle size distribution is
identified as well-graded or poorly-graded. Well-graded coarse-grained soil contains a
good representation of all particle sizes from largest to smallest, with 12 % fines. Poorly
graded coarse-grained soil is uniformly graded, i.e. most of the coarse grained particles are
about the same size with 12 % fines. Gap graded coarse grained soil can be either a well
graded or poorly graded soil lacking one or more intermediate sizes within the range of the

Fine grained soils

Fine-grained soils are those having 50% or more by weight of material that pass the 75 m
sieve. The fines are either inorganic or organic silts and/or clays. To describe fine grained
soils either in the field of laboratory, plasticity and soil-type adjectives should be used.
Table 4.1: Particle Size Definition for Gravels and Sands

Grain Size


300 mm +


300 mm to 75 mm



19 mm to 75 mm



19 mm to 4.75 mm



4.75 mm 2.00 mm
Measurable and visible to the eye
(#4 to #10 sieve)**
2.00 mm 0.425 mm
Measurable and visible to the eye
(#10 to #40 sieve)**
0.425 mm- 75 micron
Measurable but barely discernible to the eye
(#40 to #200 sieve)**
*Boulders and cobbles are not considered part of the soil's classification, but described as with
cobbles at about 5% (volume).
Previous ASTM nomenclature.

Fine-grained soils where the organic content appears to be less than 50% of the volume
should be described as soils with organic material or organic clays and silts. If the soil
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appears to have an organic content greater than 50% by volume it should be described as
Some subjective indicator tests may be useful in determining the plasticity characteristics
of fine grained soils in the field. These tests include the dilatancy or reaction to shaking
test, the dry strength test, the toughness test and plasticity tests. The description of these
tests is given in Table 4.2. For each test, the fraction which passes the 0.425 mm sieve is
used and corresponds to the fraction which is required for determination of Atterberg
limits. For the purpose of the visual tests, screening is not important and the removal of
coarse particles is adequate. Table 4.3 presents a method to describe plasticity as a function
of dry strength.

Table 4.2: Field Identification Procedures for Fine Grained Soils





Test Procedures and Interpretation of Results

Prepare a pat of moist soil with a volume equivalent to a 25-mm cube. Add water,
if necessary, to make the soil soft but not sticky. Place the pat of soil in the open
palm of one hand and shake horizontally; strike vigorously against the other hand
several times. If the reaction is positive, water appears on the surface of the pat;
the consistency of the pat then becomes livery; and the surface of the pat becomes
glossy. Next, squeeze the sample between the fingers. The water and gloss should
disappear from the surface of the pat; the soil will stiffen and crack or crumble.
The rapidity of the appearance of water on the surface of the soil during shaking
and its disappearance during squeezing help to identify the character of the fines in
the soil. Very fine clean sands give the quickest and most distinct reaction,
inorganic silts give a moderately quick reaction, and plastic clays have no reaction.
Mould a pat of soil to the consistency of putty. If the soil is too dry, add water; if it
is too sticky, the specimen should be allowed to dry by evaporation. After the
consistency of the pat is correct, allow the pat to dry (by oven, sun, or air). Test its
strength by breaking and crumbling between the fingers. The dry strength
increases with increasing plasticity. High dry strength is characteristic of high
plasticity clays. Silty sand and silts have only slight dry strengths, but can be
distinguished by feel when powdered; fine sands feel gritty whereas silts feel
smooth like flour. It should also be noted that shrinkage cracks may occur in high
plasticity clays. Therefore, precautions should be taken to distinguish between a
shrinkage crack as opposed to a fresh break which is the true dry strength of the
A specimen of soil which is about the size of a 25-mm cube should be moulded to
the consistency of putty; add water or allow drying as necessary. At the proper
moisture content, roll the soil by hand on a smooth surface or between the palms
into a thread about 3-mm in diameter. Fold the thread of soil and repeat the
procedure a number of times. During this procedure, the water content of the soil
is gradually reduced. As drying occurs, the soil begins to stiffen and finally loses
its plasticity and crumbles at the plastic limit. After the thread has crumbled, the
pieces should be lumped together and a kneading action should be applied until
the lump crumbles. For higher clay contents, threads are stiffer and lumps are
tougher at the plastic limit than for lower plasticity clays.

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Table 4.3: A Field Method to Describe Plasticity in terms of Dry Strength



Dry strength


None; crumbles into powder with mere pressure.

Low plasticity

Low; crumbles into powder with some finger


>10 - 20

Medium plasticity

Medium; breaks into pieces or crumbles with

considerable finger pressure.

>20 - 40

High plasticity

High; cannot be broken with finger pressure; spec.

will break into pieces between thumb and a hard

Very plastic

Very high; cant be broken between thumb and a

hard surface.

1 - 10


Other tests which may help in distinguishing sands and fine grained soils in the field are
summarized in Table 4.4. The dispersion (settlement in water) test and the bite test can be
used to determine the presence of and relative amounts of sand, silt, and clay fractions. The
odour and the peat tests are useful for determining the presence of organic matter, the acid
test for identifying the presence of a calcium carbonate cementing agent, and the slaking
test for determining whether the rocklike material is shale. Like the other three tests
mentioned in Table 4.2, these tests are also performed on particles that pass the 0.425 mm
sieve which is the division between medium and fine sand. For field classification
purposes, screening is not necessary. Instead, the removal of the coarse particles that
interfere with tests is sufficient.
When both fine and coarse grained soils are present in a soil mass in appreciable quantity,
the description is in such a way that the name of the second soil type is used as an
adjective. For example when the percentage of the fine-grained soil type is less than 30%
but greater than 12% of the total sample, the soil is described as silty or clayey,
depending on which particle size is dominating. Similarly, the description becomes
gravelly or sandy if the coarse-grained component is 30% or more of the total sample.
When the percentage of the fine-grained soil is 5 to 12%, the description contains with
silt or with clay. The coarse grained equivalent is used when the sand and gravel is less
than 30% but higher than 15% of the total sample.

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Table 4.4: Additional Tests to Identify Fine Grained Soils in the Field

Disperssion test

Bite test
Odour test

Acid test

Slaking test


Test Procedures and Interpretation of Results

Place a few hundred grams of soil in a jar containing water. Shake the jar and
allow the soil to settle. The rate of settling can be used to judge the (settlement
predominate soil type(s) whereas the thicknesses of the various soils can be
used to judge the gradation of the soil. Sands settle in 30 to 60 seconds, silts
settle in 30 to 60 minutes, and clays may in water) remain in suspension
overnight. The interface between fine sands and silts occurs where individual
grains cannot be discerned with the unaided eye. The cloudiness of the water
indicates the relative clay content.
Place a pinch of soil between the teeth and grind lightly. Fine sands grate
harshly between the teeth; silts have a gritty feeling but do not stick to the
teeth; clays tend to stick to the teeth, but do not have a gritty feeling
Organic soils have a musty odour which diminishes upon exposure to air. The
odour can be revived by heating a moist sample or by exposing a fresh sample.
Peat has a fibrous texture and is characterized by partially decayed sticks,
leaves, grass, and other vegetation. A distinct organic odour is characteristic of
peat. Its colour generally ranges from dull brown to black.
Moist highly plastic clay will shine when rubbed with a fingernail or
pocketknife blade; lean clay will have a dull surface.
The presence of calcium carbonate in a soil can be determined by adding a few
drops of dilute (3:1 ratio of water to acid) hydrochloric acid to the soil. The
relative amount of calcium carbonate in the soil can be determined by the
effervescence (fizzing reaction) which occurs. Degrees of reaction range from
none to strong. For some very dry non-calcareous soils, the illusion of
effervescence as the acid is absorbed by the soil can be eliminated by
moistening the soil before the acid is applied.
Certain shales and other soft rock-like materials disintegrate upon drying or
soaking. The test is performed by placing the soil in the sun or oven to dry
completely. After the sample has been dried, it should then be soaked in water.
The degree of slaking should be reported.

Soil classification

The most widely used soil classification is the Unified Soil Classification System (ASTM
D 2487). The USCS outlines field procedures for determining plasticity, dilatancy, dry
strength, particle size, and other engineering parameters. The AASHTO classification
system (M 145), which is also commonly used for highway projects, groups soils into
categories having similar load carrying capacity and service characteristics for pavement
sub-grade design. The USCS is provided here for information but in most cases of site
investigation in Ethiopia, the AASHTO classification system is recommended.
The USCS is based on identifying soils according to their textural and plastic
characteristics, and on their grouping with respect to behaviour. Soils seldom exist in
nature separately as sand, gravel, or any other single component. They are usually found as
mixtures with varying proportions of particle sizes. Each component part contributes its
characteristics to the soil mixture. The USCS is based on those characteristics that control
how the soil behaves as an engineering material.

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As illustrated in Figure 4.1, the following properties have been found most useful for this
purpose and form the basis of soil identification. They can be determined by simple tests
and, with experience, can be estimated with some accuracy.
Percentages of gravel, sand, and fines (fraction passing the 75 micron sieve).
Shape of the grain-size-distribution curve.
Plasticity and compressibility characteristics. In the USCS, the soil is given a
descriptive name and a letter symbol indicating its principal characteristics.
Soils are primarily identified as coarse grained, fine grained, and organic. On a textural
basis, coarse-grained soils have 50% or more by weight of the overall soil sample retained
on the 75 m sieve (No. 200 sieve in Figure 4.1) and fine-grained soils are those that have
more than 50% by weight passing the 75 m sieve (No. 200 sieve in Figure 4.1). Highlyorganic soils are, in general, readily identified by visual examination. The coarse-grained
soils are subdivided into gravel and gravelly soils (G) and sands and sandy soils (S). Finegrained soils are subdivided on the basis of their liquid limit (LL) and plasticity properties.
The symbol L is used for soils with LL of 50 and less and the symbol H for soils with LLs
in excess of 50. Peat and other highly organic soils are designated by the symbol Pt.
The Unified Soil Classification System is shown in figure 4.1.

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Figure 4.1: The Unified Soil Classification System (USCS).

The AASHTO soil classification system is shown in Table 4.5. The AASHTO
classification system is useful to determine the relative quality of the soil material for use
in earthwork structures, particularly embankments, sub-grades, sub-bases and bases.

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Table 4.5: The AASHTO soil classification system

General classification

Granular materials
(35% or less of total sample passing 75 micron (No. 200 sieve)

of fraction
passing No 40
(0.425 mm)

Sieve analysis,
percent passing

Group classification
2 mm
(No 10)
0.425 mm
(No. 40)
75 micron
(No. 200)



Usual significant
constituent materials
Group Index**





35 max

35 max

35 max

35 max

36 min

36 min

36 min

36 min

40 max

41 min

40 max

41 min

40 max

41 min

40 max

41 min

10 max

10 max

11 min

11 min

10 max

10 max

11 min

11 min*

50 max
30 max

50 max

51 min

15 max

25 max

10 max




Silty-clay materials
(More than 35% of total sample passing 75
micron (No. 200 sieve)

6 max


Stone fragments,
gravel and sand

Fine sand

Silty or clayey gravel and sand


4 max

Silty soils
8 max

Clayey soils

12 max

16 max

20 max

Classification procedure:
With required test data available, proceed from left to right on chart; correct group will be found by process of elimination. The first group from left into which the test data
will fit is the correct classification.
*Plasticity Index of A-7-5 subgroup is equal to or less than LL minus 30. Plasticity Index of A-7-6 subgroup is greater than LL minus 30.
**See group index formula below. Group index should be shown in parentheses after group symbol as: A-2-6(3), A-4(5), A-7-5(17), etc.
GI = (F-35)[0.2+0.005(LL-40)] + 0.01(F-15) (PI-10)

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According to the AASHTO system, soil is classified into seven major groups, A-1 through
A-7. Soils classified under groups A-1, A-2 and A-3 are granular materials where 35% or
less of the particles pass through the 75 m (No. 200 sieve). Soils where more than 35%
pass the 75 m (No. 200 sieve) are classified under groups A-4, A-5, A-6 and A-7. Soils
where more than 35% pass the 75 m (No. 200 sieve) are mostly silt and clay-size
To evaluate the quality of a soil as a sub-grade material, the group index (GI) is also used
along with the groups and subgroups of the soil. The group index is written in parenthesis
after the group or subgroup designation. The GI is shown in Table 4.5 where F is the
percentage passing the 75 m (No. 200 sieve), LL is the liquid limit, and PI is the plasticity
index. Rules related to interpreting the GI are:
If the equation yields a negative value, GI is taken as zero.
The group index calculated from the equation is rounded off to the nearest whole
number (e.g. GI = 3.4 is rounded off to 3; GI=3.5 is rounded off to 4).
There is no upper limit for the group index.
The group index of soils belonging to groups A-1-a, A-1-b, A-2-4, A-2-5, and A-3
will always be zero.
When the group index for soils belonging to groups A-2-6 and A-2-7 is calculated,
the partial group index for PI should be used, or GI = 0.01(F-15) (PI-10).

Engineering characteristics of soils

In the previous sections, soils are divided into coarse and fine grained using either the
USCS or AASHTO classification systems. The engineering characteristic of a soil mass
depends on the proportion of these two groups of soils, and is governed by the one which
4.6.1 Coarse grained soils
Grain size distribution is the main important factor that controls the engineering behaviour
of granular soils. Much can be learned about a soils behaviour from the shape and location
of the grain size distribution curve (poorly-graded, well-graded, and gap-graded). For
instance, densification of a well-graded soil causes the smaller particles to move into the
voids between the larger particles. As the voids in the soil are reduced, the density and
strength of the soil increases. Specifications for select fill should contain required ranges of
different particle sizes so that a dense, non-compressible backfill can be achieved with
reasonable compactive effort.
A poorly graded or uniform soil is composed of a narrow range of particle sizes. When
compaction is attempted, inadequate distribution of particle sizes prevents reduction of the
volume of voids by infilling with smaller particles. Uniform soils are not good for selected
fill. However, uniform soils do have an important use as drainage materials. The relatively
large and permanent void spaces act as conduits to transmit water.
In general, the following are the main engineering characteristics of coarse grained soils:
Generally very good foundation material for supporting structures and roads;
Generally very good embankment material;
Generally the best backfill material for retaining walls;
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May settle under vibratory loads or blasts;

Dewatering may be difficult in open-graded gravels due to high permeability;
Generally not expansive.

4 .6.2 Fine grained soils

The plasticity index (PI) is the main parameter that governs the engineering performance
of fine-grained soils. In addition to the PI, the liquidity index (LI) and liquid limit (LL) are
also useful indicators of the engineering performance of fine grained soils. The PI
represents the range of water content over which the soil remains plastic and normally the
higher the PI, the higher the percentage of clay particles in the soil. Also, the more plastic a
soil, the more likely it is to be compressible. It will have a greater potential to shrink and
swell and it will be less permeable.
In general, the engineering characteristics of inorganic clays (A-6 and A-7) are the
Generally possess low shear strength;
Plastic and compressible;
Can lose part of shear strength upon wetting;
Can lose part of shear strength upon disturbance;
Can shrink upon drying and expand upon wetting;
Generally very poor material for backfill;
Generally poor material for embankments;
Can be practically impervious;
Clay slopes are prone to landslides.
The engineering characteristics of inorganic silts (A4 and A-5) are:
Relatively low shear strength;
Relatively low permeability;
Difficult to compact.


4 .7.1 Description
An engineering description of a rock should include those features which are significant in
influencing its engineering performance. Most rocks are cut by discontinuities which
characteristically have little or no tensile strength. In many cases, the engineering
performance (strength, compressibility, permeability and durability) of any rock mass is
influenced by these fractures and their inclusion is clearly an important aspect of rock
Ideally, the best way to obtain a comprehensive description of a rock mass is by careful
examination of large exposures. However, in many site investigations of rock it is not
possible to gain access to large exposures and hence the rock mass description has to be
derived mainly from borehole information. Boreholes provide a reasonable means for
examining the rock material but do not permit a comprehensive description of the

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In road design and construction, describing rocks is often necessary in situations such as
rock cuttings, blasting and tunnelling. Rocks should also be described during an
investigation of bridge foundations. In addition, deep seated landslide and groundwater
investigations may require complete rock descriptions. When providing rock descriptions,
there is a need to use technically correct geological terms. Local terms are acceptable if
they describe distinctive characteristics. Rock cores should be logged when wet for
consistency of colour descriptors and greater visibility of rock features. Methods of rock
material and discontinuity descriptions are summarized in Appendix B and should include
as a minimum the following items:
Rock (unit or formation) name;
Lithology with lithological descriptors;
o Composition (mineralogy);
o Grain/particle size;
o Texture;
o Colour;
Bedding/foliation/flow structure;
Discontinuities (includes fracture indexes);
Generally, it is advisable to write the description in the order listed above for ease of
understanding. For instance:
Sandstone, red, very fine-grained, thinly-bedded and highly fractured, iron-oxide
cemented, slightly weathered, relatively strong"
4.7.2 Rock name
Like any soil mass, every rock should be properly identified by its name. Rock names or
rock unit names are not only required for identification purposes but may also provide
indicators of the depositional environment and geologic history, geotechnical
characteristics, and correlations with other areas. Hence, during site investigation, a simple
descriptive name should be provided to allow designers to better understand the possible
engineering characteristics of the rock.
Unlike soils where naming is largely based on engineering properties, rock names or rock
unit names are connected with geological parameters such as stratigraphy (lower and upper
sandstone), lithology (basalt, rhyolite, etc.), age (e.g. Tertiary lava flows), genesis
(igneous, sedimentary, etc.) or a combination of these. The resultant names seldom bear
any relation to engineering performance. In many cases, a full petrographic analysis is
required to classify a rock specimen for geological applications. Such classification
systems are too elaborate for engineering purposes, and usually provide little or no
information of engineering significance. For engineering use the classification systems
should be simplified and the number of rock names kept to a minimum. This is especially
true in road construction. As much as possible, rock names should be geologically correct
but simple enough for general understanding.
4.7.3 Lithological descriptions
Rocks are classified into three major groups (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic),
based on their genesis as shown in Table 4.6. Igneous rocks are formed from the
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solidification of molten magma. Sedimentary rocks are results of the accumulation of

fragmental rock and organic material or by chemical precipitation. Metamorphic rocks are
products of alteration of existing rocks through the action of heat and pressure. These three
classes are further subdivided into different rock groups according to mineral and chemical
composition and texture (grain size).
Igneous rocks are divided into intrusive (plutonic) and extrusive (volcanic). Intrusive
igneous rocks are formed by the crystallization of magma deep in the earth while extrusive
igneous rocks are produced when lava solidifies on the ground surface. The grain sizes of
igneous rocks can range from very coarse (equivalent to gravel in a soil) to very fine
(equivalent to silt and clay) and is related to the rate of cooling of the parent magma.
Coarse-grained igneous rocks are associated with slow cooling rates, and fine-grained
igneous rocks with a rapid process of solidification. If the magma cools very rapidly, in
such a way that there is no time for crystals to develop, then a rock with glassy texture is
produced. Intrusive igneous rocks are very coarse- to medium-grained while extrusive
rocks are usually fine-grained (aphanitic), glassy or porous.
The main rock forming minerals in igneous rocks include quartz, feldspar, mica
(muscovite, and biotite) and ferro-magnesian (mafic) minerals. Classification is based on
the relative proportions of quartz, feldspar and mafic minerals. High proportions of quartz
and feldspar give the rock a light colour, whereas the presence of a significant amount of
mafic minerals results in a dark appearance. Light coloured igneous rocks, such as rhyolite,
are called acidic while those which appear dark (for example basalt) are known as basic.
Most igneous rocks are placed in these two categories. It is often difficult to identify
intermediate igneous rocks in hand specimen.
Some igneous rocks, such as basalt, exhibit large crystals embedded in a finer-grained
matrix. Such rocks are termed porphyritic and the large crystals are termed phenocrysts.
Extrusive igneous rocks often have numerous spherical or ellipsoidal voids (vesicles).
These are produced by the inclusion of gas bubbles within the magma as it cools. When
these vesicles are present, the rock is said to be vesicular. In some cases, these voids may
be filled with minerals. Such mineral filled inclusions are termed amygdales and the rock
is known as amygdaloidal.

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Table 4.6: Rock groups and types

(Coarse Grained)
Clastic rocks

(Fine Grained)

Chemically formed

Pyroclastic breccia
Tuff (Ash)
Scoria (Cinder)

Organic remains



Pyroclastic rocks are formed by the accumulation of volcanic material generated by the
explosive fragmentation of magma. Characteristically, there are more pyroclastic rocks
associated with acidic than basic magmas. Acid magmas are more viscous and release only
little gas which results in high explosions. This may occur when the rising magma comes
into contact with ground water. The different types of pyroclastic rocks are the following:
Ash tuff: rock dominated by ash particles (pyroclasts whose average size is less
than 2 mm). When welded it is simply referred to as tuff.
Lapilli tuff: rocks dominated by lapilli (pyroclasts with a size in the range of 2mm
to 62 mm).
Pyroclastic breccias: rocks containing at least 75% bombs (pyroclasts whose
average size exceeds 62 mm), and in which angular pyroclasts predominate.
Agglomerate: rocks containing at least 75% bombs, mainly rounded.
Most sedimentary rocks are cemented aggregates of transported fragments derived from
pre-existing rocks. Typically these rocks comprise rock fragments resistant to weathering
and minerals derived from the chemical decomposition of pre-existing rocks (clay
minerals) bound together with chemical precipitates (or cementing agents) such as iron
oxide and calcium carbonate. Other forms of sedimentary rock include accumulations of
organic debris (typically shell fragments or plant remains), and minerals that have been
chemically precipitated.
As shown in Table 4.6., sedimentary rocks are broadly classified into three sub-groups:
Clastic sedimentary rocks are formed by the accumulation of rock or mineral

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Organic sedimentary rocks are derived from accumulations of dead plants and other
biodegradable material.
Chemical sedimentary rocks are formed by the accumulations of minerals
chemically precipitated from surface or groundwater. Rocks formed by chemical
precipitation generally have a crystalline texture. Most chemically precipitated
rocks are water soluble.

Metamorphic rocks are derived from pre-existing rocks of all types (igneous, sedimentary
and metamorphic) in response to marked changes in temperature or stress or both. An
increase in temperature or pressure can cause the formation of new minerals and the partial
or complete recrystallization of the parent rock with the development of new textures.
Metamorphic rocks are classified into foliated and non-foliated as shown in Table 4.6.
Foliated metamorphic rocks contain laminated structure resulting from the segregation of
different minerals into layers during the process of metamorphism. Non-foliated
metamorphic rocks are re-crystallized and are generally massive or contain no distinct
4 .7.4 Rock colour
Rock colour is not in itself a specific engineering property, but may be an indicator of the
influence of other significant geologic processes that may be occurring in the rock mass
(e.g. the presence of water, the action of weathering, etc.). In basic and acidic igneous
rocks, it is normally associated with mineral composition of the constituent particles. In
clastic sedimentary rocks, it may even be linked with the type of cementing material.
Colour is often the most noticeable feature of a rock but is possibly the most difficult to
describe accurately. The colour of rock should be assessed objectively applying similar
precautions to those advised in assessing the colour of soils. Wherever possible, colour
should be compared with a standard chart.
4 .7.5 Bedding
Often, sedimentary rocks contain a series of beds that need to be estimated (measured) and
included in the description. Similarly, foliation and igneous layering should also be
properly described. If present, these structures can affect the degree of rock fracturing
during excavation and blasting. Moreover, they control the mechanism and extent of slope
failure. Table 4.7 provides terms to describe the thickness of beds. The inclination of
bedding or foliation with respect to the road cut should also be investigated and measured
from the horizontal.
Table 4.7: Terminology for Layer Thickness

Page 4-14

Very thickly bedded


Thickly bedded

600 mm 2 m

Thinly bedded

60 mm 600 mm

Very thinly bedded

20 mm 60 mm


6 mm 20 mm

Thinly laminated

< 6 mm

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Chapter 4
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4.7.6 Weathering
Weathering is the process of alteration and breakdown of rock. It comprises physical
disintegration (physical weathering) and chemical decomposition (chemical weathering),
which normally act together. The two extremes of weathering are an unaltered fresh rock
and a residual soil. If unaffected, a complete weathering profile may be present in which a
residual soil grades downwards through weathered rock into unaltered fresh rock.
Intermediate states of weathering are difficult, if not impossible, to identify if the dominant
weathering mechanism and the appearance of the end members are not known, particularly
in weak rocks.
Weathering is strongly influenced by climate (rainfall and mean temperature). In arid
areas, physical disintegration is the main process, whereas chemical decomposition
dominates in humid tropical regions. However, it should be pointed out that the progress of
chemical decomposition usually relies on fractures formed partly as a result of physical
disintegration. Similarly, fractures may develop in response to changes in volume and
weakening from chemical weathering.
The main processes of chemical weathering depend on the presence of water and may
result in the alteration or dissolution of the component minerals grains. In the case of
sedimentary rocks, the cement which binds the grains together is also prone to chemical
attack. Typically, the chemical decomposition of the rock material starts at discontinuity
walls and works inwards towards the centre of the intact blocks. This is often associated
with discoloration penetrating the rock from the discontinuity walls. In cases were cement
is removed by solution, the rock may be friable adjacent to discontinuities, and the zone of
discoloration may be absent. The degree to which the discoloration has penetrated the rock
will indicate the degree of weathering.
The effect of only slight or moderate chemical decomposition will be to influence the shear
strength and compressibility of the discontinuities with little effect on the intact rock.
When the volume of chemically decomposed rock exceeds that of the fresh rock in intact
blocks, the rock properties will be affected. It is likely that when the rock material is highly
weathered, the discontinuities will not have a significant effect on the performance of the
rock mass as would be the case if the rock material were fresh. This is particularly true
with respect to compressibility.
Physical weathering of rock will generally cause the formation of new fractures, together
with the opening of existing discontinuities. The action of physical weathering may only be
recognized from variations in discontinuity spacing and aperture measurements. These
measurements form an essential feature of rock mass descriptions. The decrease in
discontinuity spacing and the general loosening of intact blocks of rock associated with
this weathering process will have a significant influence on the performance of the rock
In some areas, the simple weathering profile of fresh rock overlain by residual soil may not
occur due to variations in rock type and geological structures. It is then possible for
weathered rock to pass laterally into unweathered rock and for altered layers to exist below
fresh rock. Alteration refers to changes in the chemical or mineralogical composition of a
rock produced by the action of hydrothermal fluids. Alteration effects may be significant at
increasing depths.

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Table 4.8 shows the terminology used to describe the weathering state of a rock mass. A
detailed description of weathering for selection of road construction materials is also given
in Chapter 8. Generally, weathering is well described using rock cuts or exposures in the
field. Attempts to describe the degree of weathering using rock cores are often very
difficult. This is because a borehole does not provide a sufficient volume of the rock mass
to permit an accurate assessment of the state of weathering. Indeed, the weathered state of
the rock obtained from boreholes is based almost entirely upon the condition of the rock
material. In cases where the processes of physical weathering dominate, the rock material
will appear relatively fresh even when the fracture state of the rock mass may indicate a
high degree of weathering throughout the area.

Table 4.8: Terminology for Rock Mass Weathering





No visible sign of rock material weathering, perhaps slight

discoloration on major discontinuity surfaces.


Discoloration indicates weathering of rock material and discontinuity

surfaces. All the rock material may be discoloured by weathering and
may be somewhat weaker externally than in its fresh condition.



Less than half of the rock material is decomposed and/or disintegrated

to a soil. Fresh or discoloured rock is present either as a continuous
framework or as core-stones.



More than half of the rock material is decomposed and/or

disintegrated to a soil. Fresh or discoloured rock is present either as a
discontinuous framework or as core-stones.



All rock material is decomposed and/or disintegrated to soil. The

original mass structure is still largely intact.

Residual soil

All rock material is converted to soil. The mass structure and material
fabric are destroyed. There is a large change in volume, but the soil
has not been significantly transported.



No visible sign of weathering of the rock material.


The colour of the original fresh rock material is changed. The degree of change
from the original colour should be indicated. If the colour change is confined to
particular mineral constituents, this should be mentioned


The rock is weathered to the condition of a soil in which the original material
fabric is still intact, but some or all of the mineral grains are decomposed


The rock is weathered to the condition of a soil in which the original fabric is
still intact. The rock is friable, but the mineral grains are not decomposed

4 .7.7 Rock strength

Rock strength is controlled by many factors including the degree of consolidation,
cementation, crystal bonding, degree of weathering and alteration. Determination of
relative rock strength can be estimated in the field using the Schmidt hammer rebound test
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or the Point Load test. The latter is especially more reliable. The results can be refined later
in the laboratory. Terminologies for describing rock strength based on the unconfined
compressive strength are given in Table 4.9.
Table 4.9: Description of rock strength in the field
Very weak
Very strong

Field identification
Indented by thumbnail.
Crumbles under firm blows with point of geological
hammer, can be peeled by a pocket knife.
Can be peeled by a pocket knife with difficulty, shallow
indentations made by firm blow with point of geological
Specimen requires more than one blow of geological
hammer to fracture.
Specimen requires many blows of geological hammer to
Specimen can only be chipped with geological hammer.

Strength (MPa)
0.3 1
5 50
50 100
100 250
> 250

4.7.8 Rock discontinuity

Structural breaks or discontinuities generally control the mechanical behaviour of rock
masses by forming planes of weakness or surfaces of separation. These weak planes or
separations include foliation and bedding planes, joints, fractures, and shear zones.
Discontinuities usually control the strength, deformation, and permeability of rock masses.
In many cases, engineering problems are related to these discontinuities rather than to
intact rock strength. Discontinuities should, therefore, be adequately described. This
description should include all observable characteristics such as spacing, orientation,
continuity, openness, surface conditions, and fillings.
The spacing between discontinuities is defined as the perpendicular distance between
adjacent discontinuities. It is described in the field using the guide given in Table 4.10. The
orientation is the direction of continuity and inclination. It is an important parameter to
assess deformation and stability on rock faces. Seepage on road cuts may also be affected
by the orientation of discontinuities. Continuity measures the continuous nature of a
discontinuity. A continuous joint or fracture is weaker and more deformable than a short
discontinuous one bridged by intact bedrock. The aperture (openness) is a separation of a
discontinuity. It is measured normal to the fracture surface. Aperture affects the strength,
deformability, and seepage characteristics. Fillings are secondary materials that exist
within the openings of discontinuities. Describing fillings should contain their
composition, thickness, alteration, weathering, and strength.
Fracture density is based on the spacing between all natural fractures in an exposure or
along cores from boreholes, excluding mechanical breaks. Fracture frequency, on the other
hand, is the number of fractures occurring within a unit length or survey-line.

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Table 4.10: Discontinuity Spacing

Page 4-18

Very widely spaced
Widely spaced

Spacing of discontinuity

Moderately spaced

300 mm 1 m

Closely spaced
Very closely spaced

30 - 300 mm
< 30 mm

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Chapter 5
Site Investigation Stages

As indicated in Figure 1.1, road design and construction involves a multi-phased approach
to site investigation. This is especially true in projects that involve new construction, or in
those that pass through mountainous areas or are located in remote regions. The lengthy
duration, limited access, and limited coverage of field surveys in these places may demand
that site investigations be carried out in several phases to obtain the information necessary
at each stage of the project cost effectively. Throughout the development of the project, the
final alignment and profile may deviate from those originally anticipated. Dividing the
investigation into phases provides a rational approach to produce the most acceptable
design options with the best possible solutions to various problems.
Table 5.1 provides further detail on the basic procedural steps needed in a typical site
investigation during the design of a road. The various steps or phases or stages are often
carried out in the form of desk study, reconnaissance survey, preliminary investigation, and
final investigation. The final work of compiling field and laboratory data and writing a
report is usually performed in the office.

Desk study

The objective of a desk study is to:

Identify the design data needs for the project;
Assess design requirements;
Evaluate performance criteria; and
Search for areas of concern on site and potential variability of local geology.
After defining different options of road alignments earlier in the planning phase (see the
ERA Route Selection Manual), it is essential that a complete description of the site, its
accessibility, work requirements, and other preliminary information is made available for
the upcoming surface and subsurface investigations. This can be done through the desk
study programme. The desk study is also important to decide the number of design phases
needed and the exploration methods to be used. A desk study also involves the
identification of sources of information and the review of existing documents.
5.2.1 Identifying sources of information
The first step in the desk study is to identify the source of existing data. There are a
number of very helpful sources of information in Ethiopia that can and should be used in
planning surface and subsurface investigations for roads. Much of this information can be
obtained for free or is available at low cost from various institutes. Their review at this
stage can minimize surprises in the field, assist in determining boring locations and depths,
and provide very valuable geological information which may have to be included in the
site investigation report.

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Table 5.1: Basic Steps for a Typical Investigation to Design a Road

Identify sources of information
Locate available preliminary information useful to the project,
Obtain other pertinent preliminary project related information,
Find engineering and location study reports,
Search for any design related documents.
Review available information
Review any site investigation reports and information for projects in
the vicinity with emphasis placed on those in the same region,
Review published information. Place emphasis on documents
obtained from ERA,
Obtain survey information such as cross sections, drawings, and
Plan field investigation
Review checklists for site investigations,
Determine types of investigations and equipment requirements,
Determine site restrictions. A site visit may be required,
Develop a preliminary boring and testing plan.
Conduct field investigation
Mobilize site investigation equipment,
Excavate pits, trenches and boreholes,
Prepare borehole logs,
Describe soil and rock masses.
Plan sampling and testing
Determine sampling and testing requirements,
Perform in-situ tests,
Record field information.
Summarize field data.
Summarize soil and rock survey information,
Summarize subsurface profile information,
Review roadway cut and embankment checklists,
Identify unstable slopes and landslide areas,
Locate potential sources of construction materials and estimate
Identify water problem areas.
Laboratory tests
Engineering property tests on the characteristics of the sub-grade,
Classification and index tests of construction materials,
Tests to confirm design values.
Write a report
Compile field and laboratory information,
Draft report (to be revised by appropriate experts),
Final report.

Site investigation phase

Desk study

Desk study

Reconnaissance survey

Preliminary and final


Preliminary and final


Preliminary and final


Preliminary and final


Office work

The task of looking for existing data generally involves researching for past information
about the site. In road design, existing information may be in the form of unprocessed and
processed data. Unprocessed data include topographic maps, aerial photos, and satellite
images. Initial base maps for road projects are usually generated from existing topographic
maps. Existing aerial photographs can be used as temporary base maps if topographic maps
are not available. Prior photo-analysis is critical if the available time and funding is
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Chapter 5
Site Investigation Stages

limited. This is especially true in regional and rural roads where the provision of
appropriate access is a priority.
Processed data comes in the form of:
Geological maps;
Existing borings;
Previous bridge plans with plotted borings;
Previous geotechnical reports;
Previous subsurface investigations at or near the project site;
Previous construction records of structures (i.e. pile length, drivability problems,
unpredicted settlement, etc.);
Well records;
Property ownership information;
Locations of rivers, bridges, culverts, etc.;
Flood zone maps or flood level records;
Engineering (agricultural) soil maps;
Site plans showing locations of ditches, driveways, culverts, utilities and pipelines:
Pre-design plans, profiles and cross sections.
Table 5.2 provides names of federal and local agencies in Ethiopia where data relevant to
site investigation exists. ERAs library and documentation from Transport Construction
Design Enterprise (TCDE) are also good sources of information.
5.2.2 Reviewing available information
A review of available information will help in early recognition of the characteristics of the
site and potential geo-hazards. It facilitates appropriate scoping of the later stages of the
subsurface investigation programmes, and can be used to assess the economics of filed
investigation. In addition, it enables the formulation of a preliminary geotechnical ground
model, and assists in the creation of efficient designs for roadway structures (e.g.
foundations, retaining walls, tunnels, slope stabilization works, etc.).
For a road construction project, basic sources of geotechnical information should be
reviewed to determine landform boundaries. A necessary part of reviewing available data
is to identify the major geologic processes that occurred at the project site in the past. This
permits the geotechnical specialist to develop an understanding of how the local soils and
rocks will behave during and after the construction of the new structure or roadway.

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Table 5.2: Ethiopian Data Sources for Site Investigation

Utility Maps

Aerial Photographs

Topographic Maps

Functional Use
Identifies buried utility locations;
Identifies access restrictions
Prevents damage to utilities
Identifies man-made structures, potential borrow source
Provides geologic and hydrological information which can
be used as a basis for site reconnaissance;
Track site changes over time
Provides good index map; Allows estimation of site
Identifies physical features; Can be used to assess access



Federal, Regional and Local

agencies/ authorities and Utility

Telecommunication and water supply line identifications

prior to an investigation prevents expensive repairs.

Ethiopian Mapping Agency

Evaluating a series of aerial photographs may save time

during construction material survey.

Ethiopian Mapping Agency

Engineer identifies access areas and restrictions, identifies

areas of potential slope instability; and can estimate cut and
fill before visiting the site.

Satellite images and

digital elevation
models (DEM)

Provides topographical and hydrological information which

can be used as a basis for site investigation and design

International organizations such as

SPOT, Landsat, and SRTM.

Satellite images and DEMs are useful for hydrological

analysis of watersheds around river crossings.

Existing Subsurface

May provide information on nearby soil and rock type,

strength parameters, hydro-geological issues, foundation
types previously used

Geological Survey of Ethiopia

Transport Construction Design
Enterprise (TCDE), other regional
and local agencies.

A report for a nearby roadway widening project provides

geologic, hydrogeological, and geotechnical information for
the area, reducing the scope of the investigation.

Geological Survey of Ethiopia


A report on regional geology identifies rock types, fracture

and orientation and groundwater flow patterns.

Ministry of Agriculture, local soil

conservation and research institutes.

The local soil survey provides information on near-surface

soils to facilitate preliminary borrow source evaluation.

Geologic Reports
and Maps

Soil maps

Provides information on nearby soil and rock type and

Hydro-geological issues,
Environmental concerns
Identifies site soil types
Permeability of site soils
Climatic and geologic information

Water Well Logs

Groundwater levels
Provide stratigraphy of the site and/or regional area

Water Wells Drilling Agency

Wells indicate the presence of water in the surroundings of

the site.

Climatic data
(rainfall and

Rainfall distribution
Maximum and minimum temperatures

National Metrological Agency of


Climate controls the degree and type of weathering and may

indicate the type of materials present in the site.

Land use / land


Ministry of Agriculture, local

agencies, universities and research

Land use or land cover maps assist to identify the physical

and biological cover over the land, including water,
vegetation, bare soil, and artificial structures.

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Soil maps
Road maps
Water bodies
Forest map

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Chapter 5
Site Investigation Stages

Reconnaissance survey

It is essential that the geotechnical engineer, and if possible the pavement design engineer
and other team members, conduct a short reconnaissance visit to the project site to develop
an appreciation of the topographic and geologic features of the site, and become aware of
access and working conditions as part of the desk study phase of site investigation.
The reconnaissance survey creates an opportunity to learn about the design and
construction plans, general site conditions, access restrictions for equipment and personnel,
traffic control requirements during field investigations (for rehabilitation and upgrading
projects), location of utilities, type and condition of existing facilities (i.e. pavements,
bridges, etc), adjacent land use (schools, churches, etc.), right-of-way constraints,
environmental issues, problem soils, erosion features and surface settlements, flood levels,
availability of water, and the presence of benchmarks and other reference points to aid in
the location of boreholes.
Right-of-way is needed to investigate any non-reclamation land and should be obtained
during the reconnaissance survey to prevent work delays. Although "walk on" permission
can be obtained easily and may not be necessary in many parts of Ethiopia, permission for
trenching and boring requires a formal request and discussion with local administrative
Moreover, the reconnaissance survey is important to get an understanding of the processes
which have developed the present geological situation at and in a broad region around the
site; to explain the geomorphology of the project area in terms of local and regional
landforms; to draw attention to important features such as major landslides occurring at or
close to the site; to get an appreciation of the regional groundwater conditions; and to form
a logical basis for the location of suitable sources of construction materials.

Preliminary site investigation

The next step after reviewing existing documents and the reconnaissance survey is the
implementation of an appropriate ground exploration programme for the purpose of
collecting all the information important for the design of the road. This exploration
programme is usually performed in the form of preliminary and final phase investigations.
When properly planned, this type of two-phase investigation provides sufficient surface
and subsurface information for each stage of design while limiting the risk of unforeseen
problems. Prior to initiating both the preliminary and final site investigation programmes,
the geotechnical engineer needs to know the type of road, traffic load, performance criteria,
location, and geometry.
The initial or preliminary design stage investigation is typically performed early in the
design process prior to defining the proposed structural elements or the specific locations
of bridges, embankments or other structures. Accordingly, the preliminary design
investigation typically includes techniques sufficient to define the general geology, soil and
rock characteristics, sub-grade conditions, and other features important to road design. In
addition, a substantial portion of the site investigation time should go into the preliminary
design phase to refine road alignment and profile. Some boreholes could be undertaken
partly as an experiment to determine the best method for boring, sampling and in-situ
testing in the final stage of investigation. At the end of this stage, there should be sufficient

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knowledge of the site to allow a preliminary design of the roadway and associated

Final site investigation

A final site investigation programme builds on the results of the desk study, reconnaissance
and preliminary site investigations, and is conducted to confirm the extent and implication
of key geotechnical issues. During this stage of site investigation, all the elements of the
design are refined, checked and quantified. The scope of a final site investigation must be
sufficient to allow design and construction to proceed with a low level of risk. Generally,
the results of a detailed geotechnical site investigation are compiled into a site
investigation and materials report.
It is possible that some of the final investigation work may be difficult and expensive to
undertake because of access to the project site and availability of equipment. Often these
problems are easier to overcome during the construction of the project when site access has
been obtained and construction equipment is readily available. Hence, there is often a great
temptation to postpone necessary investigation until construction begins. However, this
practice is not recommended as it is possible that postponed items from the main site
investigation programme could have revealed ground condition problems that would
invalidate the project design.
There are times from a cost perspective that it will be impractical to take site investigation
equipment into the field more than once. This is especially true where access is limited for
new alignments and also for the lower volume roads. In cases of this nature, both the
preliminary and final site investigation stages can be combined into one exploration phase,
and the data collected will form the basis for the determination of the centre line of the
road. This single phase investigation should also permit preliminary estimates of material
quantities and construction costs. An additional investigation may only be needed during
construction and directed towards approving design aspects, fine-tuning some vital
decisions, and identify specific problem areas.
In cases where the traffic is expected to grow quickly and the road design demands a two
stage site investigation with more or less equal emphasis and detail, the trenching and
boring scheme, the sampling frequency, and testing for each stage should complement each
other to avoid repetition while maintaining sufficient coverage.

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The site investigation for preliminary and final design focuses on the following aspects:
1. Soils and rock conditions and the situation of the sub-grade to support the pavement
and earthworks operations. An assessment of the sub-grade strength is required
during site investigation for pavement design, together with the conditions of
compaction and reuse of excavated materials. Also, the interface between soil and
fresh rock should be identified as far as possible in order to understand the extent of
the earthwork and associated problems.
2. Road cut sections in particular, should be estimated as a function of height, with
consideration given to previous local experiences, and the geological and soil
formations. The influence of potential erosion and disturbance following road cuts
should also be investigated. The side slopes to be adopted for the road cuts should
also be established.
3. Embankment stability, as well as a potential for excessive settlements, may
occasionally become problematic if soft and compressible deposits are encountered.
It is at this stage that the magnitude and rate of anticipated settlements should be
estimated together with the potential for embankment failure. This will allow for
the selection of remedial solutions and the determination of the possible need for
further investigations and studies. Significant problems related to expansive and
collapsible soils should also be identified and solutions proposed.
4. Soil and foundation conditions at streams and river crossings (e.g. bridges and
culverts) also need attention during site investigation. The goal is to define the soil
characteristics in the vicinity and optimize the location of the structures, prior to the
final foundation design.
5. It is important to verify the existence of material sources at desirable intervals and
their quality and suitability, although a precise estimate of the volumes may be
difficult during site investigation. If problems become apparent with the availability
of certain materials, then a more precise determination of the quantities should be
made at this stage. Alternate solutions should be proposed if a scarcity of materials
becomes apparent.
6. In certain areas, water may be scarce for construction purposes and in particular for
providing proper moisture content during compaction of the soils and pavement
layers. Since this problem is serious in some regions of Ethiopia, it is important to
search for water sources, estimate their yields and record the distances from the
construction site. In regions where water is scarce, a separate and dedicated hydrogeological study may be needed.
In this chapter, attention is given to investigation needs that are common to any aspect of
road design such as the conditions of sub-grades, earthworks and foundations. The
investigation for construction materials is discussed separately in Chapter 7.
Geotechnical problems that are not commonly observed in all road construction sites are
discussed under Special Investigations in Chapter 8. In an equally divided, two phases of
exploration (preliminary and final) for design, special investigations can be carried out
when the inputs are needed, and the necessary equipment and personnel are available. A
summary of geotechnical needs and testing considerations in pavement design is given in
Appendix C.

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The design data survey assumes that the vertical and horizontal alignments of the road
have been to a large extent fixed. It is impossible to know the depth of sampling unless
there is knowledge about the approximate vertical alignment of the road. If the vertical
alignment is changed, the investigation data may translate into prohibitively large pit
depths in a cut or the design depth may be entirely within an embankment, where qualities
of available fill materials decide the required pavement design rather than in-situ soils. Any
change in horizontal alignment may also need additional site investigation along the new

Sub-grade characterization

The performance of a road is significantly affected by the characteristics of the sub-grade.

Desirable properties of the sub-grade include strength, stiffness, drainage, ease of
compaction and low compressibility. These properties can have a significant influence on
road performance and long-term maintenance. The sub-grade must be strong enough to
resist shear failure and have adequate stiffness to minimize vertical deflection. It should
also form a suitable platform to achieve the required compaction of the pavement layers
above sub-grade level. Stronger and stiffer materials provide a more effective foundation
for the riding surface and will be more resistant to stresses from repeated loadings and
environmental conditions.
A critical component of site investigation is, therefore, the characterization of the subgrade which can comprise naturally unprocessed or treated in-situ materials, a capping or
drainage layer, or a combination of these. As shown in Figure 6.1, there are three locations
a sub-grade can assume in pavement design: at the existing ground surface, at the top of an
embankment, or at the bottom of a cut section. The exploration required for road cuts and
embankments will be discussed in the followings sections. In this section, emphasis is
given to sub-grades at existing natural grounds whose performance is controlled by the insitu conditions.
In cases where the in-situ conditions of the sub-grade materials are unsuitable, costeffective methods of improving the existing situations must be identified. An important
part of this process is the balance between initial construction costs and long-term
maintenance costs. These trade-offs are best resolved during site investigation.
6 .2.1 Location and spacing of test pits and borings
Common investigations for sub-grade characterization include test pits and trenches, hand
auger probes, and occasional borings. The location, spacing and depth of pits and borings
for characterizing the sub-grade depend on the type of road; the soil and rock formations;
the known variability in stratification; and the anticipated loads from traffic to which the
sub-grade will be exposed. A prior review of all possible documents as well as a
preliminary visual inspection of the entire road alignment (reconnaissance survey) assists
in developing a plan for the location of pits.

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Figure 6.1: Different Options of Sub-grade Locations

In many circumstances, the exact location of pits is determined on the basis of subsurface
conditions. Test pits should be located along the road alignment as well as within the
lateral extent of anticipated excavations to ensure material representation. In the case of a
new road, excavation normally starts at the existing ground level, not far from the
anticipated centreline. During upgrading and reconstruction, test pits should be dug
through the pavement layers. Depending on the type and extent of distresses, pits could
also be necessary on both sides of the road (or near the shoulders) for rehabilitation
Often, the location and spacing of pits are decided based on the phase of investigation. For
route selection studies, very wide pit spacing (up to 5km) may be acceptable particularly in
areas of uniform or simple subsurface conditions. During preliminary investigation, a
closer spacing is necessary but the number would be limited to an amount needed for basic
design purposes. This spacing is refined during final investigation with more pits
excavated to supplement those dug earlier in areas where there are special problems to
Table 6.1 provides guidelines for selecting minimum boring depths and spacing for subgrade characterization. This table should be used only as a first step in estimating the
minimum number of borings for a particular design, as actual boring spacing will be
dependent upon the project type and geologic environment. In all cases, it is recommended
that the depth of the exploration should be such that the depth of significant influence
(DOSI) is explored. In areas underlain by heterogeneous soil deposits and rock formations,
it will probably be necessary to exceed the minimum depth of investigations to capture
variations in soil and rock type.

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Table 6.1: The Frequency and Depth of Investigation for Sub-grade



Minimum number and location of

exploration points
Preliminary site
Final site

A minimum of one
exploration point at each
km of the anticipated

Additional exploration
points are needed at
significant changes in
soil types.
Representative large
amounts of samples for
CBR testing should be
taken from pits or
borings located not more
than 10km apart.

Minimum depth of

The spacing can be

wider (up to 5km) in
relatively uniform

Investigate to a depth 1.5m

below the proposed subgrade level. In the case of a
new alignment, the depth
from the natural ground
surface should not be less
than 2m unless a rock
stratum is encountered.

The spacing could be

as low as 500m when
information is
required on specific

In some places, the depth

should increase to fully
penetrate soft, highly
compressible soils.

Representative large
amount of samples
for CBR testing
should be taken from
pits or borings when

The presence of groundwater

less than 3 m beneath the
sub-grade, irregular
bedrocks, or big boulders
may all need a limited
amount of shallow borings
(up to 15m).

Generally, pits could be excavated at each kilometre of the anticipated alignment for
preliminary design, with more pits needed where there are significant changes in soil types.
Significant changes in subsurface conditions are those which affect the engineering
properties of soils, as well as their bearing strength (CBR). The spacing of pits during final
site investigation should be planned with an aim to fill the gaps that are identified after the
preliminary design. Generally, this spacing could be as low as 500m in areas with
geotechnical, hydrological or environmental problems and can go up to 5km when the
subsurface condition is relatively uniform or appropriately determined with pits (trenches)
dug for preliminary design.
The average frequency of one pit per kilometre during preliminary site investigation and
associated sampling procedures apply to soil identification. For soils classification, this
spacing could increase to two kilometres. Representative large amount of samples for CBR
testing should be taken from pits or borings located not more than 10km apart.
It is sometimes not possible to dig trial pits to the full depth of soil layers or in highly
weathered rocks. In these cases, the use of a hand or power augers is recommended. In
some circumstance, a number of borings may be necessary to investigate the materials that
lie below pavements. This is especially true in areas where thick problem soils and soft
deposits exist; and when the road alignment passes through landslide zones, solution
cavities, and unconsolidated soils. In these cases, the location and spacing of boreholes
depend on the location of these specific problems, with one or more borings needed in
specific areas.

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6.2.2 Depth of test pits and boreholes

Similar to the location and spacing, the depth of pits and borings is determined by the
nature of the subsurface. In pavement design, the depth of influence is usually assumed to
relate to the magnitude and distribution of traffic loads. Current AASHTO (1993) and
many other standards limit this depth at 1.5m below the proposed sub-grade level. This
depth increases in special situations such as when deep deposits of very soft soils exist.
For the purpose of sampling and description, pits should be dug to at least 50cm below the
expected sub-grade level. In the case of a new alignment, the depth from the natural
ground surface should be not less than 2m unless a rock stratum is encountered. Almost all
investigation in upgrading, reconstruction and rehabilitation projects can be done with the
help of an excavator. Assuming permission of access has been obtained, an excavator
should be used at all identified locations along the alignment for digging a pit (or trench) of
up to 5 m deep. All necessary safety requirements should be observed during the
Special problems requiring deeper exploration may include thick highly compressible
deposits (e.g. peat or marsh areas) or expansive or frost-susceptible soils. Moreover, the
presence of groundwater less than 3 m beneath the sub-grade, irregular bedrocks, or big
boulders may all need a limited amount of shallow borings (up to 15m).
Where borings are drilled to a rock stratum, it is generally recommended that a minimum
of 3m length of rock core be obtained to verify that the boring has indeed reached bedrock
and not encountered the surface of a boulder. Buried basaltic boulders are common in the
Ethiopian highlands where Trap Series lavas exist. It is also possible to find limestone and
sandstone columns moved to lowlands as rock falls, where sedimentary rocks are present.
In general, subsurface investigation programmes, regardless of how well they may be
planned, must be flexible to adjust to variations in subsurface conditions encountered
during investigation. The geotechnical engineer should at all times be available to confer
with the field inspector. On critical projects, the geotechnical engineer should be present
during the field investigation. There should also be a communication with the design
engineer to discuss unusual field observations and changes to be made in the investigation
The position of each test pit and borehole must be accurately recorded. In every test pit, all
layers, including topsoil, shall be properly described and their thicknesses measured. All
layers of more than 50cm shall be sampled. This will promote a proper assessment of the
bulk of materials excavated in cuts and to be used in embankments. The samples shall be
taken over the full depth of the layer by taking a vertical slice of material.
6.2.3 Laboratory testing
During sub-grade characterization, samples are necessary for further visual description and
laboratory tests. The number of test specimens depends on the number of soil layers
identified from pits as well as their engineering behaviour. There are no general guidelines
on the number of tests, but the availability of in-situ tests often reduces the total amount
and type of laboratory tests. Most of the sub-grade test specimens should be taken from as
close to the top of the sub-grade as possible, extending down to a depth of 50cm below the

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planned sub-grade elevation. However, some tests should be performed on soils

encountered at a greater depth, especially if those deeper soils are soft. Likewise, the extent
of the laboratory programme depends on the criticality of the design and on the complexity
of soil conditions.
Soil laboratory tests commonly used in pavement design and their AASHTO or ASTM
designations are summarized in Appendix D. The primary test to assess the strength of the
sub-grade is the California Bearing Ratio (CBR) test. Table 6.2 summarizes the purpose,
procedures and limitations of this test. Where possible, CBR tests should be performed on
undisturbed specimens that represent the natural conditions of the sub-grade.

Table 6.2: The California Bearing Ratio (CBR) Test



T 193
D 4429 (for field); D 1883 (for laboratory)
To determine the bearing capacity of a compacted soil under controlled moisture
and density conditions.
The test results are expressed in terms of a bearing ratio which is commonly
known as the California Bearing Ratio (CBR). The CBR is obtained as the ratio
of the unit load required to cause a certain depth of penetration of a piston into a
compacted specimen of soil at a measured moisture content and density, to the
standard unit load required to obtain the same depth of penetration on a standard
sample of crushed stone. Typically soaked conditions should be used to simulate
anticipated long-term conditions in the field.
The CBR test is run on three identically compacted samples. Each series of tests
is run for a given relative density and moisture content. The engineer must
specify the conditions (dry, at optimum moisture, after soaking, 95% relative
density, etc.) under which each test should be performed.


CBR is a practical bearing capacity test, yet provides only discrete point test data
for evaluation. Most CBR testing is laboratory-based, thus the results will be
highly dependent on the representativeness of the samples tested. The test results
are used for pavement designs using locally specified limits.

In addition to the CBR, sub-grade samples shall be tested for in situ moisture content
(AASHTO T 265), Atterberg limits (AASHTO T 89 and T 90), percent passing the
0.425 mm ASTM sieve, weighted plasticity index (WPI), standard and modified
compaction tests (AASHTO T99 and T180), and swelling at natural density and moisture
CBR testing of in situ untreated sub-grade and fill material to determine the design CBR
and swell shall comprise single point or at times three point tests as described in Table 6.2.
Testing shall target at most 95.0% maximum dry density (MDD) and 100% optimum
moisture content (OMC) using modified compactive effort. The target MDD for testing
can be increased to 97.0% for fill materials depending on the standard of the road. The
moisture contents after soaking shall be measured on the whole CBR specimen after

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Soaking periods for determining both the CBR values and swell shall be:
Unsoaked for low pavement moisture-content environments and dry areas such as
many parts of the Afar and Somali regions, and the northern and southern lowlands;
Four-day soaking is necessary for locations with circumstances other than those
mentioned above. Testing in many places of the central, western and eastern
highlands and the central and southern part of the rift valley can be done under this
It is always advisable to consider local climatic and topographic condition when deciding
the soaking period. In deep gorges for example, a mixed approach of unsoaked in the
valley floor where day-time temperatures are high, soaking for four-days in the middle and
even an extended soaking at the top could be considered to better simulate natural
In many cases, an assumed design CBR could be assigned on the basis of previous test data
and performance of soils in similar environments. Some regional road authorities and
federal institutes may have considerable experience and performance data on specific soil
types in local climate and topographic conditions. Use of this information reduces the cost
of sub-grade evaluation and also helps ensure a consistent approach to the determination of
sub-grade CBR within each region. The approach involves the assessment of sub-grades on
the basis of local geology, topography and drainage, with regular routine soil tests.
In addition, many highly- to extremely-weathered rocks in the highlands of Ethiopia tend
to breakdown during construction and release moisture-sensitive clay fines. For such subgrade materials, the effects of construction should be simulated by repeated cycles of
compacting. Adequate compaction of the sub-grade and subsequent pavement layers is an
essential ingredient for obtaining high-quality road pavements and cannot be
overemphasised. Good compaction reduces settlement, increases strength and density, and
decreases the sensitivity of the sub-grade soil to changes in moisture content.
In the case of upgrading gavel roads, the following approach shall be considered when the
geometric standards are acceptable to maintain the existing alignment.
Where more than 10cm of existing gravel wearing course is in place, samples of the subgrade shall be submitted to grading by 0.075mm sieve, Atterberg limits, and standard
compaction test. In addition, the field moisture content and field dry density shall be
measured to decide whether to leave the sub-grade undisturbed or subject it to recompaction. In-situ dry density and moisture content shall be determined by nuclear
methods. Table 6.3 summarizes other alternatives with their advantages and limitations.
If the degree of compaction is found to be at least 95% of the maximum dry density, then
CBR values shall be measured in the laboratory at field dry density from samples of the
sub-grade materials. These values may be supplemented by direct measurements of the
sub-grade strength using DCP. If the degree of compaction is not satisfactory, the subgrade will need re-compaction and the CBR values shall then be measured at a compaction
of 95% MDD.

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Table 6.3: Options for Measuring Dry Density



Comment on use
Sand replacement (cylinder) is the commonest method
employed. Time consuming, potential difficulties with
unstable holes in granular materials.
Can only be used in cohesive soils free from coarse-grained

Sand replacement


Core cutter density


Water replacement


Used effectively only in fine materials.

Nuclear density


Gamma radiation a function of material wet density.

Source is inserted in small hole in ground. Requires careful
calibration for each chemically variable soil type.

During the upgrading of a gravel road on the same alignment, the existing gravel wearing
course may provide extra material either for sub-base, or for improved sub-grade.
Measurements of the thickness and width of gravel wearing course shall then be recorded
every 500m. One sample per kilometre of existing gravel wearing course shall be taken,
where the gravel layer is at least 10cm thick. Each sample shall be subjected to tests related
to grain size analysis, Atterberg limits, and compaction and CBR tests.
In rehabilitation projects, the number and type of tests will depend on the condition of the
existing road. The initial survey should be used to show where problems that require
material property information exist. In general, however, representative samples would be
tested for the purpose of material identification and engineering description.
6 .2.4 Subsurface profile
On the basis of all subsurface information (i.e. from the literature review, geophysical
evaluation, in-situ testing, soil borings, and laboratory test data), a subsurface profile is
developed to evaluate the regional behaviour of the sub-grade. Longitudinal profiles are
typically developed along the roadway alignment, and a limited number of transverse
profiles may be included for key locations, such as at major bridge foundations, cut slopes,
or high embankments. The subsurface information should also be presented in plan view,
providing a map of general trends and changes in subsurface conditions.
Vertical and plan view profiles provide a means of summarizing pertinent subsurface
information and illustrating the relationship of the various investigation points. By
comparing the vertical profiles with the plan view, the subsurface conditions can be related
to the topography of the site, providing a sense of lateral distribution over a large
horizontal extent.
The preparation of subsurface profiles requires geotechnical judgment and a good
understanding of the geologic setting for accurate representation of the ground conditions.
In developing a two-dimensional subsurface profile, the profile line (typically the roadway
centerline) needs to be defined on the base plan, and the relevant pits and borings should
be projected to this line. Due to the subjective nature of the interpretation required,
subsurface profiles and plan views should not be included in the construction bid
documents. The subsurface profile should be presented at a scale appropriate to the depth
of the borings, frequency of the borings and soundings, and overall length of the crosssection.
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Road Cuts and Embankments

Many roads require the design and construction of road cuts and embankments. Road cuts
involve excavation of a cut slope or construction adjacent to a natural slope. Embankments
are, on the other hand, fills constructed on natural soil. The embankment fill is either
imported or relocated from another portion of the project and placed on the existing
ground. In most cases, cuts and fills are needed to meet grade and curvature requirements
where the topography is changing. Fills are also needed when the road passes through low
lying areas susceptible to flooding and inundation because of runoff or an increasing
groundwater table. Fills can also be used to form temporary access routes.
The different topographic and geologic conditions for road cuts and embankments result in
different geotechnical requirements during field explorations and engineering design.
Table 6.4 summarizes the information needed to assess cuts and embankment fills.

Table 6.4: Information Needs During the Design of Road Cuts and Embankments
Purpose of

Engineering evaluations

Required information for analyses

and road cuts

Slope stability
Bottom heave
Lateral pressure
Soil softening/progressive
Pore pressures


Settlement (magnitude & rate)

Bearing capacity
Slope stability
Lateral pressure
Internal stability
Borrow source evaluation
(available quantity and quality
of borrow soil)
Required reinforcement

Subsurface profile (soil, ground

water, rock)
Shrink/swell properties
Unit weights
Hydraulic conductivity
Time-rate consolidation parameters
Shear strength of soil and rock
(including discontinuities)
Geologic mapping including
orientation and characteristics of
rock discontinuities
Subsurface profile (soil, ground
water, rock)
Compressibility parameters
Shear strength parameters
Unit weights
Time-rate consolidation parameters
Horizontal earth pressure
Interface friction parameters
Pullout resistance
Geologic mapping including
orientation and characteristics of
rock discontinuities
Shrink/swell/degradation of soil
and rock fill

The primary geotechnical concern for road cuts is the stability of the slope. The stability
assessment requires characterization of the different geological layers and groundwater

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conditions of the existing material. Engineering design activities focus on the evaluation of
short- and long-term stability for different groundwater and material strength conditions.
The primary geotechnical design issues for embankments, on the other hand, include
bearing capacity, slope stability and long-term settlement. These design issues are often
controlled by not only the engineering characteristics of the fill, but also the geological
property of the material below it. Consequently, site investigation for the embankment
focuses on material exploration while evaluating the response of the foundation to the load
from the new fill.
6 .3.1 Road cuts
This section addresses existing slopes adjacent to roadways or slopes resulting from
roadway excavations. Existing slopes are referred to as natural slopes, while those
excavated are called road cuts or cut slopes. As discussed in Chapter 2, many regions in
Ethiopia are mountainous. The construction of roads in these regions often demands the
excavation of deep cuts to meet geometric standards. In theory, the stability of cut slopes is
determined on the basis of the factor of safety obtained from analytical methods. However,
the application of stability analyses to the design of road-cuts is not always successful
because of the heterogeneity and spatial variability of rocks and soil masses.
Hence, natural slopes with a history of instability often need surface and subsurface
investigations. These investigations should as a minimum consider the types of materials in
the cut; slope stability and the different types of movements that may occur in the region;
sub-grade materials and their strength; moisture regime; and the level and movement of
groundwater. It is also advisable to look for scarps, anomalous bulges, odd outcrops,
broken contours, ridge top trenches, fissures, terraced slopes, abrupt changes in slopes or in
stream directions, and springs or seepages. These may indicate the presence of past
movements. It is necessary to examine not only the sides of the road but also the entire
The first indication of possible instability problems can be obtained from a study of the
topography. Topographic maps, aerial photographs and site reconnaissance all provide
useful data on whether instability is likely to occur or has occurred in the past.
Moreover, an understanding of the local geology is necessary. Initially, this involves the
use of all available geological, agricultural soil and engineering soil maps and reports.
Because of the high degree of heterogeneity and anisotropy in material property, failure
along road cuts in the highlands of Ethiopia doesnt usually follow the classical "slip
circle", but will be associated with pre-existing planes. Hence, when rock slopes are
encountered, a complete survey of the orientation and characteristics of joints is essential.
In addition, the degree of weathering along these discontinuities should be inspected.
When inspection and visual survey is not enough, it is often useful to excavate a pit or
trench. In deep cuts especially where an interference with existing stability and
groundwater conditions is expected, a long trench across the face of the slope would allow
the defining of the surface and subsurface geology of the area in which the cut will be
constructed. Trenches are more preferable than pits to inspect cuts because of their
dimension. Depending on the geology and degree of weathering, up to three trenches are
normally enough to investigate a 120m long slope cut. This is indicated in Table 6.5. The

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trenches should be located at places where material changes are expected and located by a
geotechnical expert.
Table 6.5: Suggested spacing and depth of trenches and boreholes for road cuts
Minimum spacing

Minimum depth
Preliminary investigation
A minimum of
three exploration points for
every 120 m (uniform
conditions) of the slope

Cut slopes

Final investigation
In deep cuts, a
minimum of one boring
should be performed for
each proposed cut slope.

At critical
locations (e.g. maximum
cut depths or soft strata) a
minimum of three
exploration points in the
transverse direction of the
slope are needed.

For longer cuts,
horizontal spacing for
borings parallel to the cut
should generally be
between 50 to 200 m,
based on site geology.

For cut slopes in
rock, perform geologic
mapping along the length
of the cut slope.

In rock
exposures, the use of
inclined boreholes to
intersect steeply dipping
discontinuities should be

depth should be, at a
minimum, 4.5 m below
the minimum elevation
of the cut unless a hard
stratum is encountered.
depth should be great
enough to fully
penetrate through soft
strata into competent
material (e.g. stiff to
hard cohesive soil,
compact to dense
cohesionless soil, or
Where the base
of cut is below groundwater level, increase
depth of exploration to
determine the depth of
underlying pervious

In areas where it is expected that the stability of the slope will be affected by the road cut,
further investigations should be carried out using boreholes. Prior to this, however, a
seismic refraction survey can be used to delineate the soil/rock or soft/hard rock
boundaries. The number, spacing and depth of boreholes depend on the subsurface
geology, the configuration and dimensions of possible unstable areas, and the expected
mechanism of failure. Normally boreholes are needed in the final phase of site
investigation and during construction after it is known that the information from trenches is
insufficient. Where general instability exists, borings should be placed perpendicular to the
centreline on the uphill side of the cut.
In deep cuts, a minimum of one boring should be performed for each proposed cut slope.
For longer cuts, horizontal spacing for borings parallel to the cut should generally be
between 50m to 200m, based on site geology. Wider spacing may be considered if, based
on existing data and site geology, conditions are likely to be uniform and of low impact to
construction and long-term cut slope performance. Borings should extend a minimum of
5 m below the anticipated depth of the cut at the ditch line to allow for possible downward
grade revision and to provide adequate information for slope stability analysis. Boring
depths should be increased at locations where base stability is a concern due to

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groundwater and soft or weak soil zones. Borings should extend through any weak zones
into sound material.
Hand augers, test pits, or trenches may be used for investigating sliver cuts (additional cut
in an existing natural or cut slope) or shallow cuts, if the soil conditions are known to be
fairly uniform. Moreover, detail investigation may be required in areas of cut to fill
transition as the material at these points is expected to have variable moisture regimes.
In rock exposures, the use of inclined boreholes to intersect steeply dipping discontinuities
may be considered. Besides, care should be taken to determine the groundwater conditions
whenever deep cuts of appreciable height are proposed. In such areas, more borings are
needed and shall be taken along the centreline as well as the edge of the roadway. It is also
useful to monitor standing water levels in boreholes for as long as possible, and the nature
of groundwater flow (unconfined water table, perched, and artesian) in the region.
For soil cuts, it is important to obtain soil samples in order to perform laboratory index
tests such as particle size analysis, natural moisture content and Atterberg limits. Sampling
should also be performed for the purpose of cut slope stability assessment (using strength
and density parameters) and the evaluation of cut material as borrow sources. For rock
cuts, discontinuity characteristics and weathering should be determined for design
In situ testing can be used to augment the exploration programme. In boreholes, SPT data
taken at changes in strata or at intervals of 1.5m are generally sufficient for granular soils.
On the other hand, a combination of SPT and undisturbed Shelby tube samples are
necessary in cohesive soils. The vane shear test (VST) may also be performed in very soft
to soft cohesive soils. It involves inserting a 4-bladed vane into the soil and rotating the
device about a vertical axis, based on ASTM D 2573 guidelines. This test can yield
meaningful results in rare cases where materials consist of normally consolidated clays
without gravel, cobble-sized particles or interconnected planes of weakness. In general,
however, it should be used in conjunction with triaxial testing unless there is a previous
experience with the VST at the site.
Because it is generally desirable to obtain samples for laboratory testing, the DCP and CPT
tests are not often used for routine exploration of cut slopes. However, these tests can
provide information on the stratigraphic profile and can be used to evaluate in situ
Knowledge of groundwater elevations is critical for the design of cut slopes. In granular
soil with medium to high permeability, reliable groundwater levels can sometimes be
obtained during drilling. For boreholes located in medium to high permeability soils,
groundwater levels should be recorded at the completion of drilling after the water level
has stabilized and 12 hours after drilling is completed. In low permeability soils, however,
false water levels can be registered, as it takes days for water levels to reach equilibrium.
Generally, piezometers are needed to obtain accurate water level information and this is
discussed in Chapter 7.
In landslide susceptible zones cuts can be designed for higher factor of safety (1.5 for
example). This is because of the uncertainties involved in the determination of the material
properties and the exact plane of failure, and because of the heterogeneous nature of
geological materials. It is important to know that calculated factor of safeties are in reality

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the minimum for situations at the site of the road cut. In many cases, when probable noncircular slip planes are subjectively assessed, it is possible that, the failure plane will, in all
probability, not be that which is suggested by theoretical calculations.
Hence, the site investigation should involve the inspection of soil and rock exposures along
existing road cuts to evaluate the performance of slopes. This can help determining the
depths and gradients of road cuts qualitatively for the geological environment and climatic
conditions in hand. Commonly used cut slope ratios that allow maintaining maximum
stand up time on different soil and rock masses are given in the ERA Geotechnical Design
Manual. In slopes with heterogeneous materials, the appropriate cut-slope angle can be
determined on the basis of the types of soil and rock layers and the way they are deposited
or intercalated.
6.3.2 Embankments
Many of the methods and procedures described previously for road cuts are also applicable
to the evaluation of embankments slopes. However, in addition to the issue of slope
stability, the potential for settlement must also be considered as shown in Figure 6.2.

Figure 6.2: Illustrations of Instability and Settlements Concerns in Embankments

Hence, the embankment foundation investigation should as a minimum consider the range
of materials in the foundations and where appropriate the pavement sub-grade, settlement
potential, side-slope stability, groundwater, moisture regime, drainage requirements,
erosion resistance, haul distance, and environmental impact as shown in Table 6.6.

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Table 6.6: Investigation Needs for Embankments


Material requirement


The material, when placed and

suitably compacted, must be
capable of standing at the
appropriate designed slope both
in the short and long term.


When placed in the

embankment, particularly at or
close to slope faces, the material
must be capable of resisting
erosion by rainfall, and surface
run-off. Internal erosion
decreases when non-dispersive
soil is used. The long term
effects of alternate wetting and
drying must also be considered.

Shear strength,
undrained and
consolidated drained,
at the relevant

Grading and plasticity;

fabric and mineralogy
assessment. Possible
use of soil dispersion
and erosion tests.

Site controlling
Placement and
compaction control,

Compaction control
at the embankment
edges, drainage and
surface protection
of earthworks both
during and after

The first thing to determine during embankment site investigation is whether the
foundation is made up of transported or residual soils, or rock. Many of the problems don't
exist if rock is encountered at a shallow depth. If the underlying foundation is covered by
transported soils, then problems are likely since the material may vary from soft alluvial
clays to collapsing silts (sands) or expansive clays. It is, therefore, important to
comprehend the particular transportation history and mechanism and the result this has on
the nature of the soil and its distribution. Concerns also exist if unconsolidated residual
soils are present in an area.
The type of field investigation will then depend on the types of soils encountered. If soils
are predominately cohesive, then the primary design issues will be bearing capacity, side
slope stability, and long-term settlement. These design issues will usually require
collecting undisturbed soil samples for laboratory strength and consolidation testing. It
may also be desirable to collect in-situ vane shear strength data and conduct CPT or DCP
soundings. The vane shear test can provide valuable in-situ strength data, particularly in
soft clays.
Cohesionless soils are less of a geotechnical design concern for static loading, as they
exhibit good bearing capacity and low compressibility. Very few embankments founded on
sands have failed in many countries. Settlements will generally be small and occur rapidly
during placement of the fill. If cohesionless soils are located in seismically active areas and
below the groundwater, then liquefaction will be a concern. But, this is rare in Ethiopia.
Where embankments cross alluvial deposits there will probably be a stream requiring a
structure. Hence, embankments may need structures through them, and investigations
should assess the interaction between these structures, the embankment and the in-situ
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Most embankment problems at streams are a direct result of poor drainage and consequent
high pore-water pressures. This may be the result of inadequate design and construction,
but is more probably because drainage paths were not recognized at the time of
investigation or may have changed as a result of construction. Therefore, one very
important issue during site investigation is to look for all signs of water and moisture along
the alignment.
The size, complexity and extent of site investigation for embankments will depend
primarily on the type, height and size of the embankment as well as the expected soil
conditions. Generally, as summarized in Table 6.7, embankments with a height of 3m or
less, constructed over average to good soil conditions (non-liquefiable, medium to very
dense sand, silt or gravel, with no signs of previous instability) require only basic site
investigation. A site reconnaissance combined with widely spaced test pits (500m apart),
auger holes, or a few shallow borings to verify the anticipated site geology may be
sufficient, especially if the geology of the area is well known, or if there is some prior
experience in the region.
Table 6.7: Spacing and Depth of Exploration Points for Embankment Investigations
Minimum spacing


A minimum of
one exploration point
(pit) every 60 m (erratic
conditions) to 120 m
(uniform conditions) of
embankment length
along the centerline of
the embankment.
At critical
locations, (for high
embankments, thick
underlying soft strata,
embankments in hilly
areas) a minimum of
three exploration points
in the transverse
direction to define the
existing subsurface
conditions for stability
analyses are necessary.

Minimum depth
Final investigation
boring is
considered, this
should be in areas
where thick soft
deposits and
potentially unstable
ground are present.

Exploration depth
should be, at a minimum,
equal to twice the embankment
height unless a hard stratum is
encountered above this depth.

For bridge
embankments, at
least one borehole at
abutment locations
is needed. Shallow
boreholes may also
be needed for
embankments in
hilly areas.

If soft strata are
encountered below the depth
greater than twice the
embankment height, the
exploration depth should be
increased to fully penetrate the
soft strata into competent
material (e.g., stiff to hard
cohesive soil, dense
cohesionless soil, or bedrock).
For bridge approach
embankments, the depth of
boreholes should be deeper
than the river floor.

For larger embankments, or for any embankment to be placed over soft or potentially
unstable ground, geotechnical explorations should in general be spaced no more than 120m
apart of the embankment length for uniform conditions. In non-uniform situations, spacing
should be decreased to 60m intervals with at least one pit in each major landform or
geologic unit.

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When boreholes are considered, the depth of the borings will typically extend to twice the
height of the embankment. However, depending on the foundation conditions, the required
boring depth could be deeper or shallower than this. It is also important to determine the
level of groundwater table. When structures are involved, it is economical to use the same
borings to provide information for both the embankment and structural design.
The relevant soil characteristics related to stability and settlement, are strength and
compressibility. Like cuts, the shear strength of the subsoil is required in embankments to
estimate the stability of side slopes. This can be assessed by the description of the material
or from in situ tests (CPT, DCP and VST). The VST is often used to evaluate the in-situ,
undrained shear strength of soft to stiff clays and silts. Since few embankments require
laboratory shear strength tests, the emphasis should be on obtaining good quality, reliable
field results and, in particular, a measure of the distribution of shear strength within the
Compressibility is considered as comprising two components representing the short-term
and long-term behaviour. Short-term behaviour is modelled by elastic moduli and longterm by coefficients of volume change and consolidation. The elastic moduli can often be
determined by in-situ tests, whereas assessment of long-term compressibility requires
sampling and laboratory testing. In-situ tests are often useful to assess rates of settlement
since these depend on subsoil permeability, which may be best measured in-situ. However,
settlement in itself is not the main issue. Many embankments settle in the time after
construction. It is the rate of settlement, in conjunction with the amount that is significant.
As with road cuts, it is often difficult to define acceptable criteria for factors of safety for
sides of slopes of embankments, and in deciding the confidence level required for the
calculated values. The same is true for bearing capacity and amount and rate of settlement.
Often, it is not feasible to express these variables in the form of simple criteria, such as an
allowable settlement equation. Hence, judgment and experience is requires to express
predicted settlements in terms of the extent, and time. For this and any other related design
issues, the reader can refer to the ERA Pavement and Geotechnical Design Manuals.

River crossings

The satisfactory performance of a river crossing such as a bridge or culvert normally

depends on the proper selection, investigation and design of the foundations. While it is
more appropriate to think about the location of river crossings at the time of route
selection, the investigation during design assists in delivering appropriate foundation data
for design and reduces the risk of facing unanticipated ground conditions during
At each site where a drainage structure is to be constructed, the items that should be
evaluated during site investigation include foundation conditions, drainage area, land use,
allowable headwater, effects of adjacent structures, existing streams and discharge points,
stream slope and alignment, stream capacity, soil erodibility, and environmental
constraints. Discharge depends on the watershed drainage area, runoff characteristics,
design rainfall intensity, and return period (frequency) of the design storm. All these shall
be noted during site survey.

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The type of drainage structure constructed in an area depends mainly on the storm event.
This is, for example, based on a return interval of 20 to 100 years of flood, depending on
the type and value of the structure and local practices. Normally, the structures considered
for design are bridges, culverts, and low water crossings. The discussions in the following
sections also focus on the foundations of these structures. Bridges are large but culverts
have a limited flow capacity. On the other hand, low water crossings are less sensitive to
flow estimates.
6.4.1 Bridges
Bridges are relatively expensive but are often the most desirable stream crossing structure
because they can be constructed outside of the stream channel and thus minimize channel
changes, excavation, or placement of fill in the natural channel. They reduce the
disturbance of the natural stream bottom but they require detailed foundation
The function of the bridge foundation is to support loads from the bridge superstructure by
spreading concentrated loads over a sufficient area, provide adequate bearing capacity,
limit settlement under the imposed load, and to transfer loads through unsuitable
foundation strata to sound formation. Hence, the choice of the most appropriate foundation
type and size for bridges requires knowledge of the loading conditions, environmental and
climatic effects over the life of the structure, plus an understanding of the subsurface
conditions, locations and quality of rocks, groundwater conditions, local construction
practices, and effects of scour.
Foundations for bridges include spread footings, driven piles or drilled shafts. Each one of
these has its own advantages and disadvantages. Their selection depends on the road
design needed (refer to the ERA Bridge Design Manual for further discussion).
Spread footings are normally used where the bearing capacity is high and settlements are
small. Competent material such as rock must be present near the ground surface (roughly
less than 3m below the ground surface) to avoid large excavations during construction.
Driven piles are used where the underlying soils cannot provide adequate bearing capacity
or predicted settlements are excessive for a spread footing. The function of these piles
when used in these areas is to transfer loads to deeper suitable strata through friction and
end bearing. Driven piles are also important where the anticipated depth of scour is
Drilled shaft foundations are constructed by excavating a hole with drilling equipment and
placing concrete with reinforcing steel in the excavation. Casing, slurry, or both may be
necessary to keep the excavation stable. The size of the drilled shaft foundation typically
ranges from 90cm to 3m in diameter. The length of drilled shafts can be up to 60m. Drilled
shafts can be selected when significant scour is expected, the thickness of rock layers is
small, bridge spans are long, driven piles are not economically viable due to high loads or
obstructions to driving, there are limits on in-stream work, or earthquake loads are high.
6.4.2 Subsurface investigation
The procedure to investigate the subsurface condition of bridges is the same as any other
section of the road such as the sub-grade, cuts and embankments. The only difference may

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be the need to have more relatively deep boreholes because of the requirement to drill
down to sound rock or strong foundations. This is especially true in the case of drilled
Table 6.8 summarizes the information that is needed during the investigation of the
different types of foundations of bridges. Investigation starts with the assessment of
existing documents assisted by a reconnaissance survey to look at the performance of other
drainage structures in the surroundings of the road. This will be followed by a preliminary
investigation which may involve pits and geophysical tests at abutment areas and floor of
the stream or river. During the final site investigation phase, boreholes are needed,
although their number can be limited and more excavated as required at the time of
When borings are finished the logs should be prepared based on the format given in
Chapter 3 (Table 3.6). To the extent practical, the variation in properties within each soil
layer should be documented. After the soil layer boundaries and descriptions are
established, determine the extent and details of any necessary additional laboratory testing
(e.g. consolidation and shear strength). A subsurface profile of the type shown in Figure
6.3 should be prepared from the information to provide a visual representation of the
material that lies below the ground surface.
The final soil profile should include the average physical properties of stream-bed
materials including size and gradation, consistency, shear strength and compressibility, as
well as a soil group classification (refer to Chapter 4) and visual description of each
deposit. Also, information is needed on the nature (perched, artesian, and unconfined) and
level of groundwater. Boulders, voids and old channel deposits, if present, should also be
The soil profile should be characterized at each bridge pier location. Usually, this will
require a borehole at each centre pier and each end pier as shown in Figure 6.3. If drilled
shafts are used, the common practice is to conduct an exploration at each shaft location.
Sometimes, however, the borehole can move a little to avoid subsurface disturbances
during operation. Where a drilled shaft foundation is anticipated, it is desirable to leave
exploratory borings open for as long as practical to establish whether the hole will stay
open or collapse. This information is useful in helping to determine if temporary casing
will be required during construction.

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Table 6.8: Information Needs for the Design of Different Types of Bridge
Purpose of

Engineering evaluations


Bearing capacity
Settlement (magnitude & rate)
Shrink/swell of foundation soils (natural
soils or embankment fill)
Chemical compatibility of soil and concrete
Heave and swell
Scour (for water crossings)
Extreme loading

Driven pile

Pile end-bearing
Pile skin friction
Down-drag on pile
Lateral earth pressures
Chemical compatibility of soil and pile
Presence of boulders/ very hard layers
Scour (for water crossings)
Vibration/heave damage to nearby structures
Extreme loading

Drilled Shaft

Shaft end bearing

Shaft skin friction
Down-drag on shaft
Quality of rock socket
Lateral earth pressures
Settlement (magnitude & rate)
Groundwater seepage/ dewatering
Presence of boulders/ very hard layers
Scour (for water crossings)
Extreme loading

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Required information for analyses

Subsurface profile (soil, groundwater,
Shear strength parameters
Compressibility parameters (including
Shrink/swell potential, and elastic
Stress history (present and past vertical
effective stresses)
Chemical composition of soil
Depth of seasonal moisture change
Unit weights
Geologic mapping including orientation
and characteristics of rock discontinuities
Subsurface profile (soil, ground water,
Shear strength parameters
Horizontal earth pressure coefficients
Interface friction parameters (soil and
Compressibility parameters
Chemical composition of soil/rock
Unit weights
Presence of shrink/swell soils (limits skin
geologic mapping including orientation
and characteristics of rock discontinuities
Subsurface profile (soil, ground water,
Shear strength parameters
Interface shear strength friction
parameters (soil and shaft)
Compressibility parameters
Horizontal earth pressure coefficients
Chemical composition of soil/rock
Unit weights
Permeability of water-bearing layers
Presence of artesian conditions
Presence of shrink/swell soils (limits skin
Geologic mapping including orientation
and characteristics of rock discontinuities
Degradation of soft rock in presence of
water (e.g. rock sockets in shales)

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Figure 6.3: An example of a subsurface profile at a bridge site.

The following site conditions will warrant special consideration during investigation:
If soils are soft and compressible, it will be important to collect high quality,
relatively undisturbed samples for laboratory evaluations of compressibility and
strength. This information may be critical for assessing issues including long-term
settlement of spread footings, down-drag on piles and shafts, and settlement of piles
and shafts.
Thin layers of soft soil can result in settlement of spread footings or down-drag on
shafts and driven piles. These layers can also serve as a sliding surface for
embankments and slopes, particularly during seismic loading. If movement occurs,
foundations could be damaged.
The presence of liquefiable soils is also a concern. Conventional practice is to
locate the spread footing below the deepest depth of liquefaction or to improve the
ground so that the potential for liquefaction is mitigated. For deep foundations, the
toe elevations should be founded below potential liquefiable soils. Liquefaction can
result in loss of lateral support within the liquefied zone and down-drag loads on
the pile as the liquefied soil settles.
The presence of problem (collapsible, expansive, dispersive) soils both at the
foundation and in its surroundings should be identified. The presence of sinkholes
and problem rocks such as those highly susceptible for solution and slaking should
also be investigated.
Evaluate the groundwater conditions in borings. When feasible, install
piezometers to monitor the level of water. The existences of fluctuating
groundwater, perched water tables, and artesian conditions beneath the structure
should also be investigated. In the highlands of Ethiopia where differential
weathering of basalt led to the formation of clays in between fractured rocks,
perched and artesian conditions are common. Artesian conditions can reduce the
load carrying capacity of the soil and alter the effective stress distribution.
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6.4.3 Footings
The depth of footings for bridges should be determined in consideration of the character of
the foundation materials and the possibility of undermining. Footings not exposed to the
action of stream current should be founded on a firm ground.
In cases where spread footings are being considered, consider the following guidelines:
On Soil: the bottom of footings on soil shall be set at least 3.0m below the channel
bottom and below the total scour depth for the design flood.
On Rock: avoid keying into the rock at shallow embedment depths. Keying into
the rock typically involves blasting or other destructive methods that frequently
damages and renders the rock structure more susceptible to scour. If footings on
smooth massive rock surfaces require lateral restraint, drill and grout steel dowels
into the rock below the footing level. The bottom of the footings shall be at least
1m below the surface of scour-resistant rock with the top of the footings at least
below the rock surface.
On erodible rock: many sedimentary rocks such as marl, shale and mudstone and
pyroclastic deposits, colluviums and weathered basalts are less resistant to erosion.
These materials are common in many river valleys in Ethiopia and therefore,
careful assessment of potentially erodible rock formations is essential to assess
scour potential. The foundation decision should be based on an analysis of intact
rock cores, including rock quality assessments and local geology, hydraulic data,
and anticipated structure life. An important consideration may be the existence of a
high-quality rock formation above a thin weathered zone in many regions of the
country. For deep weathered deposits, estimate the potential scour depth for the
design flood and locate the footing so that its top is below the estimated scour.
6.4.4 Driven Piles
Driven piles are not often used as a single or individual foundation element to support a
structure. Consequently, settlement analyses of single piles are not commonly conducted.
Normally, an empirical approach known as the equivalent footing method is typically used
to calculate the settlement of a group of piles. The pile group is treated as an equivalent
footing that is founded at an effective depth below the ground surface. For uniform clays,
the effective depth is two-thirds of the pile embedment in the bearing stratum. For sand
sites, the effective depth depends on the soil conditions below the toe of the pile group.
The term pile drill and socket applies to a pile that is bored into the underlying rock a
distance of 1 or 2 pile diameters. For pile foundations that are driven to rock, the exact area
of contact with the rock, the depth of penetration into the rock and the quality of rock are
largely unknown. Therefore, the determination of load capacity of driven piles on rock
should be made based on driving observations, local experience and load tests.
In determining the spacing of piles, give consideration to the characteristics of the soil and
to the length, size, driving tolerance, batter and shape of the piles. If piles are spaced too
closely, the axial capacity and lateral resistance of each pile will be reduced. In addition,
piles must be spaced to avoid toe interference due to specified driving tolerances. Piles are
usually driven at minimum spacing of 3 pile diameters. Closer spacing minimizes the cost
of the pile cap. However, driving piles at closer spacing in dense sands and saturated

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plastic soils can cause heave or lateral ground displacements that may damage previously
driven piles.
6 .4.5 Drilled Shafts
The following factors should be considered during the investigation for drilled shafts:
Cobbles and Boulders: Construction of a shaft can be affected by the presence of
cobbles and boulders and, therefore, the site characterization effort should try to
quantify these effects through the review of the drilling information and the
geology of the area. Because of the importance of cobbles and boulders to the shaft
construction process, normal practice is to conduct a geotechnical exploration at the
centre of the location of each shaft.
Gravels and sands: Identify the presence of open gravel and sand layers, as these
materials may require the use of casing or special drilling mud to avoid hole
collapse or excessive loss in drilling mud during construction.
Explorations shall extend at least 6m or 5 shaft diameters below the likely toe of
the shaft. If hard bearing material or rock is located less than 6m, the depth of
exploration can be stopped 3m into the hard bearing material.
Socketed: If the shaft is going to be socketed in rock, the exploration shall extend
at least 2 shaft diameters below the planned elevation of the shaft toe.
Spacing: The centre-to-centre spacing of drilled shafts shall be greater than of 3.0
diameters or the spacing required to avoid interaction between adjacent shafts.
Larger spacing than 3.0 diameters may be necessary when drilling operations are
anticipated to be difficult.
Table 6.9 should be used to determine the depth and locations of borings for bridge
foundations at the start of the final phase of site investigation. This exploration programme
should be adjusted based on the variability of the anticipated subsurface conditions.
Geophysical testing, engineering judgment, and pit and trench excavations during
reconnaissance survey and the preliminary site investigation may be used to guide the
planning of this programme.
If conditions are determined to be variable, the exploration programme should be increased
relative to the requirements in Table 6.9 such that the objective of establishing a reliable
longitudinal and transverse substrata profile is achieved. If site conditions are observed or
previous local construction experience has indicated that the subsurface conditions are
homogeneous, or otherwise, and are likely to have minimal impact on bridge performance,
then a reduced programme relative to what is specified in Table 6.9 may be considered.
Laboratory testing should be used to augment the data obtained from field investigation
and to refine the soil and rock properties selected for design. Foundation design typically
relies upon the SPT results obtained during the field exploration through correlations to
shear strength, compressibility, and the visual descriptions of the soil and rock
encountered, especially in non-cohesive soils. The information needed for the assessment
of ground water and the hydrogeological properties needed for foundation design and
constructability evaluation is obtained mainly from field instrumentation (e.g.

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Table 6.9: The Minimum Number and Depth of Exploration Points for Bridge


Minimum number of
investigation points and their
For substructure widths (piers
or abutments) less than or equal
to 30m, a minimum of one
investigation point per
substructure is necessary. For
those greater than 30m, a
minimum of two investigation
points per substructure.
Additional investigation points
(boreholes) should be provided
if erratic subsurface conditions
are observed at or near the
bridge location.

For substructure widths (e.g.

bridge piers or abutments) less
than or equal to 30m, a
minimum of one investigation
point per substructure is needed.
For substructure widths greater
than 30m, a minimum of two
investigation points per
substructure is required.

Additional investigation points

should be provided if erratic
subsurface conditions are
Due to the large expense
associated with construction of
rock-socketed shafts, conditions
should be confirmed at each
shaft location during

Minimum depth of investigation

Sufficient to fully penetrate unsuitable
foundation soils into competent material of
suitable bearing capacity (stiff to hard
cohesive soil, compact to dense cohesion-less
soil or bedrock).
At least to a depth where stress increase due to
estimated foundation load is less than 10% of
the existing effective overburden stress at that
If bedrock is encountered, investigation depth
shall be a minimum of 1.5m into the bedrock,
but rock investigation should be sufficient to
characterize compressibility of infill material
in bedding planes.
In soil, the depth of investigation should
extend below the anticipated pile or shaft tip
elevation a minimum of 6m, or a minimum of
two times the maximum pile group dimension.
All borings should extend through unsuitable
strata such as unconsolidated fill, peat, highly
organic materials, soft fine-grained soils, and
loose coarse-grained soils to reach hard or
dense materials, a minimum of 5m.
For piles bearing on rock, a minimum of 3m of
rock core shall be obtained at each
investigation point location to verify that the
boring has not terminated on a boulder.
For shafts supported on or extending into rock,
a minimum of 3m of rock core, or a length of
rock core equal to at least three times the shaft
diameter for isolated shafts or two times the
maximum shaft group dimension shall be
extended below the anticipated shaft tip
elevation to determine the characteristics of
rock within the zone of foundation influence.

Index tests such as soil gradation, Atterberg limits, and water content are used to confirm
the visual field classification of soils, but may also be used directly to obtain input
parameters for some aspects of foundation design (e.g. soil liquefaction, scour, degree of
over-consolidation, and correlation to shear strength or compressibility of cohesive soils).
Laboratory tests conducted on undisturbed soil samples are used to assess shear strength or

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compressibility of finer grained soils, or to obtain seismic design input parameters such as
shear modulus.
6 .4.6 Potential scour depth
The investigation of bridge foundations and the selection of boring depths for this purpose
must consider the potential scour depth. Scour is a localized erosion of the channel bed that
occurs around flow obstructions (at pier and abutments), at channel contractions (bridges),
and on the outside of channel bends. It can also be the result of long-term erosion of the
channel that has occurred during the life of a structure. In Ethiopia, a number of bridge
collapses can be attributed to scour around bridge foundations. In view of the potential
implications, the evaluation of scour potential is a particularly important part of a design
Scour is a site-specific process that is a function of the following:
Flow velocity and duration;
The geometry of the structural elements exposed to the flow of water;
The geomorphology of the channel; and
The properties of the foundation and channel bed materials.
A multidisciplinary team of hydraulic, geotechnical and structural engineers should
evaluate the risk of scour.
A scour assessment during site investigation requires the determination of the cumulative
effects of the three main components of scour:
The total aggradation (deposition) and degradation (erosion) process of the river;
The contraction scour at bridges;: and
The local flow obstruction causing scour at piers.
Scour assessment also requires an evaluation of potential changes in channel geometry and
location that is anticipated to occur during the structures design life. The amount of scour
depends on factors that include the hydrological characteristics of the site, the hydraulics of
the flow, and the properties of the streambed materials.
During boring or pit excavation, soil strata should be summarized to a depth beyond the
probable limit of scour. The logs should then be used to establish the D50 values at the
streambed, and to verify depth to bedrock, competency of the bedrock, and material
conditions. The hydraulic engineer evaluates scour potential based on idealized soil that
uses the D50 of the streambed material. D50 is the median size of the sediment particle. A
minimum of four soil samples (two upstream and two downstream) need to be collected to
obtain the grain size distribution of streambed materials. However, for long bridges, an
appropriately greater number of samples depending on the site conditions and variation
need to be collected.
6 .4.7 Inspection of existing bridges
During upgrading, reconstruction or rehabilitation, the inspection of existing bridges is
essential. The inspection allows for the evaluation of the condition of the bridge waterway
opening, substructure, channel protection, and scour countermeasures. Both existing and

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potential problems with scour should be reported so that a scour evaluation can be made.
During inspection the following items need special consideration:
Evidence of movement of piers and abutments (rotational movement and
settlement, check sub- and superstructure for discontinuities, structural cracking or
Damage to scour countermeasures (riprap; guide banks, sheet piling, sills, etc.);
Changes in streambed elevation (undermining of footings, exposure of piles, etc.);
Changes in streambed cross section and the location and depth of scour holes.
Perhaps the single most important aspect of the inspecting the bridge for actual or potential
damage from scour is by measuring and plotting of stream bottom elevations in relation to
the bridge foundations. The stream bottom should be accurately measured by rods, poles,
sounding lines or other means, such as the use of divers.
Table 6.10 summarizes the most important aspects that should be considered during field
inspections to investigate the degree of scour along stream banks, at the main channel and
throughout the floodplain of a certain river or stream for rehabilitation, reconstruction and
upgrading of bridges.

Table 6.10: Indicators of Active or Potential Scour at or around Existing Bridges


Main Channel

Flood Plain

Bank sloughing, undermining, evidence of lateral movement, damage to
stream stabilization measures, etc.
Meandering or braided with main channel at an angle to the orientation
of the bridge;
Existence of islands, bars, debris, fences that may affect flow;
Aggrading or degrading streambed;
Evidence of ponding of flow;
Extent of debris in upstream channel.
Evidence of significant flow on floodplain;
Extent of floodplain development and any obstruction to flows
approaching the bridge location and the surrounding areas;
Evidence of overtopping approach roads (debris, erosion of
embankment slopes, etc);
Evidence of ponding of flow.

6.4.8 Culverts
Culverts are open-ended conduits used in place of a bridge to carry surface water under
roadways at stream crossings. They are also used to facilitate crossings of ditches or to
transfer the drainage run from one side of the carriageway to another. Culverts are the most
common drainage structures that are appropriate both for low and high volume roads.
The type and detail of investigation for culverts depend on the size and shape of the
structure, the design need and the drainage system. For small watersheds, a short
exploration could be enough. For larger culverts, however, the exploration must consider
the watershed and channel characteristics, high water levels, local rainfall, foundation
conditions, and the design requirements. The shape of the culvert itself, such as a round

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pipe, pipe arch, structural arch, or box, depends largely on the information from the surface
and subsurface investigation.
Flow from outfalls or culverts will generally have a higher velocity than that of the
receiving watercourse and this can result in erosion of the bed and banks of the receiving
channels. When the depth and/or extent of the scour hole is such that it undermines the
foundations of the outfall structure or its outlet wing walls, structural damage can occur
leading to collapse. Hence, they need to be properly sized and installed, and protected from
erosion and scour.
The position of a culvert is dependent on its intended purpose. Culverts are most often
placed along natural drainage courses to limit grading and disruption of the existing
groundwater regime. The alignment of the culvert relative to that of the road should aim to
minimize its length. Culvert system design shall include an investigation of the
groundwater levels and soil conditions at the site. The practice is to investigate culvert sites
with at least three pits or trenches, including one near each end of the structure and another
around the centre. All pits should be logged, and if necessary, samples should be taken for
laboratory tests.
Footings for culverts shall be carried to an elevation sufficient to secure a firm foundation.
In any location subject to erosion, the use of aprons or cut-off walls at both ends of the
culvert shall be considered and this has to be investigated early in the design phase.
Detail investigation with more pits is necessary when culverts are founded on problem
soils, and colluvial deposits. This is because of the potential for erosion, scour, collapse,
cracking and instability. For the effect of these soils, the reader can refer to Chapter 7.
6 .4.9 Low water crossings
Low water crossings, fords, or drifts, as they are commonly called, can offer a desirable
alternative to culverts and bridges for stream crossings on low-volume roads where road
use and stream flow conditions are appropriate. Like other hydraulic structures for stream
crossings, they require specific site considerations and hydrologic and hydraulic analyses.
Ideally, they should be constructed at relatively narrow and shallow stream locations, and
should be in an area of bedrock or coarse soil for good foundation conditions.
Key factors to consider for the design and investigation of low-water crossings include the
low and high water levels, foundation conditions, scour potential, channel cross-section
shape and confinements, protection of the downstream edge of the structure against local
erosion, stream channel and bank stability, and locally available construction materials.
Unlike bridges and culverts, low water crossings don't normally need detailed
investigations. In most cases, a reconnaissance survey should be enough to get adequate
information for design. Consider, however, digging some pits at the streambed and banks
to determine the size and gradation of materials useful to evaluate stream stability and
scour problems.

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The existence of diverse topography, geology and climatic conditions in Ethiopia often
creates different geotechnical problems specific to certain regions. These geotechnical
problems range from landslides common in rugged mountains to problem soils observed in
flat areas. The list also includes the effect of fluctuating groundwater, wetlands and
degradable rocks. Although the techniques used to investigate these problems are similar to
any other effort of exploration, their probable occurrence at the time of road construction
and subsequent long-term effect on the road often demand special attention during
exploration, sampling and testing. This special attention could include additional pits and
borings, or it may be related to the problem of retrieving undisturbed samples for better
analysis and understanding. New tests may also be needed other than those routine to road
design and construction. The following sections contain descriptions on these specific
geotechnical issues with recommendations to identify and analyse them during site
Design aspects related the specific geotechnical investigations are covered in the ERA
Geotechnical Design Manual, which should be read in conjunction with this section.


Landslides occur frequently in the highlands of Ethiopia. With the exception probably of
Afar and Somali regions, the presence of steep cliffs and susceptible stratigraphy in other
areas produce conditions favourable to the occurrence of landslides along road alignments.
The susceptibility of a slope to the occurrence of failure is often related to an increase in
shear stress (driving force) or a reduction in shear strength (resisting force). Factors that
increase the shear stress or decrease the shear strength in a slope are normally termed as
landslide causes or triggers. Landslide causes are considered as factors that made the slope
susceptible to failure. Triggers are events that finally initiated landslides. Thus, geological
and topographical parameters are usually regarded as landslide causes. The triggering
factors include rainfall, groundwater, earthquake and manmade activities such as road cuts
and embankments.
The causes and triggers of landslides can also be divided as external or internal. External
causes and triggers are often responsible for an increase in the shear stress. This may
include an increase in the height and steepness of the slope due to road cuts, a structural
load or embankment placed on a slope, or an earthquake. Internal causes and triggers are
those which occur without any change in the external conditions of the slope. They are
associated with a loss of the shear strength of the slope materials. An increase in pore
pressure or a reduction of cohesion due to weathering are considered as internal causes or
triggers of landslides.

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7 .2.1 Types of landslides

Landslides can be classified into different categories on the basis of the type of material
involved and their nature of movement. Materials in a landslide mass can be either rock or
soil. The soils are described as earth if they are mainly composed of finer particles and
debris if there are coarser fragments. The type of movement explains the actual internal
mechanics of how the landslide mass is displaced. There are about five types of
movements: fall, topple, slide, spread, or flow. Thus, landslides are described using two
terms that refer respectively to material and movement. They are fall or slide.

Figure 7.1: Schematic Illustrations of Slope Failure - Fall and Topple.

A fall begins with the detachment of soil or rock, or both, from a steep slope along a
surface on which little or no shear displacement has occurred (Figure 7.1). The material
subsequently descends mainly by falling, bouncing, or rolling. A topple is recognized as
the forward rotation of a displaced mass around a point below the centre of gravity (Figure
A slide is a downward movement of a soil or rock mass on a surface of rupture or slip
plane, or on a relatively thin zone of intense shear strain. On the basis of the shape of the
surface of rupture, slides are further divided into two: rotational and translational (planar).
A landslide on which the surface of rupture is curved upward and the slide movement is
more or less rotational about an axis that is parallel to the contour of the slope is called
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rotational landslide (Figure 7.2). The displaced material moves as a coherent mass along
the rupture surface with little internal deformation. The upper part of the landslide or the
head of the displaced zone may move almost vertically downward. If a rotational slide has
more than one parallel curved planes of movement, it is called a slump. Rotational slides or
slumps tend to occur in concave slopes where there is enough moisture and deep soil
The mass in a translational landslide moves down and outward along a relatively planar
surface where the soil profile is shallower. This type of slide may progress over
considerable distances if the slip plane is sufficiently inclined. Translational slides
commonly fail along faults, joints, bedding surfaces, or the contact between rock and soil
(Figure 7.2).

Figure 7.2: Rotational (slump) and Translational (planar) Landslides.

The term spread describes sudden lateral movements of relatively homogeneous clays.
Spread is often accompanied by tension cracking, subsidence and liquefaction. A flow is a
spatially continuous movement in which the surfaces of shear are short-lived and usually
not preserved. Often, there is a gradual change from slides to flows along the way,
depending on the water content, mobility, and evolution of the movement (Figure 7.3).
Creep is a type of failure where movement is imperceptible without careful observation
(Figure 7.3).

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Figure 7.3: Examples of flow and creep.

Almost all types of landslides mentioned above can occur in Ethiopia. Those most
frequently observed are rotational slides and translational slides. The materials involved in
these landslides range from loose, unconsolidated clayey soils to large blocks of rock. In
addition to slides, rock falls and rock topples are common in river gorges and steep
escarpments where long columns of bedded and jointed sedimentary rocks, such as
sandstone and limestone, are undercut by stream erosion or road excavation. Debris and
mudflows derived from liquefied slides also occur in steep hills and swales during intense
7 .2.2 Depths of landslides
Slides with a sliding depth of less than 3m are considered to be shallow. Often, these
shallow landslides displace the top part of the ground surface known as the soil mantle,
which has a natural angle at which it is relatively stable (natural angle of repose). When
hill-slopes or road cuts evolve to be steeper than the natural angle of repose, they become
less stable and more prone to shallow landslides, especially with the addition of water. The
combination of steep slopes and concave topography has the highest potential to initiate
shallow landslides.
Deep seated landslides are those slides in which the slide plane is well below the maximum
rooting depth of big trees (generally greater than 3m). Deep seated landslides can occur
almost anywhere on a hill-slope or road cut and are typically associated with the hydrogeologic responses in permeable materials that overly impermeable rocks. Deep-seated
landslides characteristically occur in thinly layered rocks, unconsolidated sediments,

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deeply weathered rock, or rocks with closely spaced fractures. They can also occur when a
weak layer such as ash and tuff is present in otherwise strong rocks like basalt.
A deep-seated rotational landslide has often three parts to identify: the scarps (head and
side) along which marginal streams can develop; the body, which constitutes the central
part of the landslide; and the toe (Figure 7.2). When small landslides are found nested
within larger envelopes, a landslide may have several scarps, bodies and toes. The head
and side scarps together form an arcuate or horseshoe shaped feature that represents the
surface expression of the rupture plane. The body and toe area are usually hummocky and
the flow path of streams on these sections may be displaced due to differential movement
of landslide blocks.
7.2.3 The role of groundwater
Some landslides in Ethiopia are triggered by the rise in groundwater level. The role of
groundwater in initiating landslides can come in several ways. The water may increase the
weight of materials on a slope above their point of gravitational equilibrium. This is an
increase in shear stress or driving force. Alternatively, it may increase pore pressures
within a zone of weakness in the materials underlying a slope or decrease the coefficient of
friction on a potential sliding surface. This leads to a decrease in shear strength.
Groundwater can also cause clays to hydrate and expand and make them susceptible to
slope failures.
A common observation in many areas is that a road cut or a hill-slope may be perfectly
stable during the dry season but may slide after the rains begin. This seasonal change in
stability is due mainly to the rapid change in the amount and level of groundwater in local
and shallow perched aquifers. Often, the presence of weathered, unconsolidated soils
between the top soil and impermeable rocks can form a perched water table (Figure 7.4).
This is common in the highlands of Ethiopia where basaltic rock masses are present in
association with weak volcanoclastic rocks. A key predictive observation for the existence
of such kind of geologic configuration is to note the presence of horizontal line of springs.

Figure 7.4: Landslides Related to a Perched Water Table

Groundwater may also contribute to slope instability through the seepage force. This is the
drag force that moving water exerts on each individual soil particle in its path in an attempt
to disperse them. Therefore, the seepage force contributes to the driving force that tends to
drive soils down-slope. The concept of the seepage force may be visualized by noting how
easily portions of a coarse-textured soil may be dislodged from a road cut when the soil is
transmitting a relatively high volume of groundwater.

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7 .2.4 Landslide mapping

Landslides are often mapped by interpreting the distribution of contours on topographic
maps and analysing landforms on aerial photographs. Typically, large-scale photography is
necessary and the photo scale depends on the size of landslides common in the project site.
The range of useful scales of aerial photography for landslide inventory work is limited to
about 1:40,000. Depending on vegetative cover, photo quality, and the skill of the
interpreter, the overall identification accuracy can go up to 75%. Generally, an
intermediate inventory map can be prepared at this stage. This map would show the
expected landslide types and distinguish between areas of landslide origin and
During topographic map or aerial photo interpretation, understanding and recognizing the
differences in slope form is the key in the recognition of potentially unstable slopes. There
are three major landforms to observe when looking across vertically in the contour
direction. These are: divergent (convex), planar (straight), and convergent (concaveshaped) landforms. Landslides can occur on any of these landforms but convergent slopes
tend to be more unstable than planar and divergent slopes because of the concentration of
As part of the field study in the preliminary site investigation phase, rocks and soils should
be described, accurate stratigraphies prepared, landform boundaries around the route
alignment precisely delineated, potentially unstable slopes identified, and the landslide
inventory updated. The most common stratigraphies susceptible to landslides in Ethiopia
A hard fractured rock such as basalt and limestone overlying a highly weathered or
weak rock such as marl, shale, and mudstone;
Hillsides made up of weak rocks such as ash and tuff and weathered basaltic rocks;
Hillside deposits such as colluvium and talus resting on beds of firm rock;
Rock and soil layers exposed by toe erosion;
Residual soil formation with an inclined inherited structure.
Factors that need to be taken into account when undertaking road alignment investigation
related to landslides in the field include:

o The steepness and shape of the slope;
o The location of tension cracks and other signs of movement.
Topographical factors that assist in recognising landslides in project sites are
deformations and irregular landforms and bulges; cracks; and indications of seepage.
A complete survey of cracks usually provides a good indication and description of the
slope failure to occur in the area. Other topographic and environmental indicators for
the presence of active landslides are:
o Bare or raw, exposed, un-vegetated soil on the faces of steep slopes;
o Hummocky or benched surfaces, especially below crescent-shaped
o Ponding of water in irregular depressions or undrained swampy areas on the
hill slope;

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o Cracks in the surface (across or along slopes, or on existing roads);

o Seepage lines or springs and soil piping;
o Rapid increase in creek water levels, possibly accompanied by increased
o Deflected streams that have moved laterally to accommodate landslide
o Back-rotated, bowed, kinked or leaning trees;
o Offset or cracked retaining walls along existing roads.

o The presence of a river or stream at the base of the slope, particularly if this
causes toe erosion during periods of flood or high flow;
o The presence of a drainage course at or above the crest of the slope;
o Any indications of a high or temporarily perched water table within the
slope (e.g. seepages and springs);
o In upgrading and rehabilitation projects, the effectiveness and condition of
the existing drainage measures.

o The pattern of rainfall in the immediate locality, particularly periods of
prolonged and/or intense rainfall that could lead to saturation of the slope.

o Rock type, weathering grade, jointing and fracture patterns;
o Presence of faults or shear zones;
o The direction and angle of dip and joints in underlying bedrock compared to
the angle and orientation to the slope, particularly if bedrock is exposed or
is at a shallow depth beneath the surface. The extent of the joints and the
presence of clay filling also has an influence;
o The sequence of the underlying strata, particularly if this includes weak or
impermeable layers;
o The presence of colluviums and unconsolidated materials.

Land Use
o Forest clearance and the extent and type of cultivation;
o The presence of irrigation channels, ditches and water pipes;
o The presence of wetlands;
o Excavations and fill slopes associated with commercial and residential
developments adjacent to the road.

7.2.5 Exploration and sampling

Once landslides are identified and mapped, further field investigations using pits and
borings might be required. This depends on the type of landslide, the extent of the problem,
the type of the road project, the presence of access, and the amount of safety needed.
Often, the extent of rock falls and topples is determined by discontinuity surveys and
drilling is not essential. A number of empirical methods have been developed to predict the
stability of rock slopes based on discontinuity data and determine support requirements.

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Flows often start as slides in the upper part of mountains and hills, and their general outline
and type of material involved can be verified by simple field observations.
Translational slides can be explored using test pits and trenches since the soil profile
involved is shallow and the direction of movement is usually dictated by the inclination of
bed rocks. In this case, trial pits are useful to determine the nature and composition of
soils, foundation conditions, the depth to slip surfaces and the presence of water seepages.
In situ tests such as the DCP can also be used to obtain an estimate of soil strength near the
slip surface. The use of these tests is often limited in gravelly soils and boulder containing
Generally, boring is needed when information on ground conditions at depth is critical to
the design of a road near a deep-seated landslide. In this case, the information is useful to
determine the type and degree of disruption of materials, the depth to the slip surface, and
the thickness and geometry of the landslide mass. There is also a need to drill boreholes
where there is an indication that a creep is slowly developing into a major slump that can
affect the roadway. Boring is also needed for installation of some monitoring instruments.
In general, a minimum of two borings should be drilled along the cross-section of the slide
during final site investigation as shown in Figure 7.5. Larger slides may require more
borings to adequately define the failure zone. Borings shall extend through the full depth of
the landslide material, terminating at least 3m into the underlying stable stratum. Drilling
could proceed even deeper to obtain an accurate interpretation of the depth of failure and
identify any underlying zones of weakness that may affect the design of mitigation
Geophysical techniques (resistivity and seismic) can be used to determine some subsurface
characteristics such as the depth to bedrock, zones of saturation, and sometimes the
ground-water table. They can also be used to determine porosity, and degree of
consolidation of subsurface materials and the geometry of the landslide. In most instances,
geophysical methods can best be used to supplement boring information, spatially
extending and interpolating data between boreholes. They can also be alternative
information source if boring is not possible.
Sampling in landslide areas often does not follow standard procedures because of the
difficulty of identifying shear zones and the need for strength testing at different intervals.
The location of slip planes usually coincides with the depth of thin layers of impermeable
plastic clays. Hence, if many of these layers are observed in boring logs, then continuous
sampling and testing is needed to establish the depth to the critical slip plane. Often,
determining this critical slip plane is more of an art than a science and requires an
experienced practitioner. Generally, shear strength tests such as triaxial and direct shear,
require undisturbed samples. If undisturbed samples are not possible to obtain from
suspected depths of shear zones, disturbed samples could be remoulded in the laboratory
prior to their use for testing.

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Figure 7.5: Illustration of Borehole Locations to Investigate a Failed Slope.

7.2.6 Monitoring
The monitoring and interpretation of the patterns of movement associated with landslides
is important to accurately define the critical depth and suggest proper remedial measures.
The most common instruments for short term monitoring include survey stakes,
extensometers, inclinometers, tiltmeters and piezometers. For long term inspection and
change detection of slowly moving landslides, remote sensing techniques such as analogue
and digital photogrammetry and synthetic aperture radar interferometry (InSAR) are often
The two most important parameters that can be monitored during the investigation of a
landslide are groundwater levels and displacement. When monitored over several months
or years, the data from these two parameters can be very valuable in determining the
behaviour of the landslide and the relationship between seasonal groundwater levels and
periods of active sliding. Piezometers allow the determination of groundwater levels. Slope
displacement is characterized by the depth of failure plane(s), direction, magnitude, and
rate. Normally, one or all of these variables may be monitored. Surveying stakes,
extensometers, inclinometers and tiltmeters allow for the determination of the direction and
rate of movement, and the depth of the failure plane. Extensometers provide an indication
of the magnitude of displacement.
Survey stakes are normally the cheapest and simplest ways of monitoring susceptible road
cuts. The stakes should be placed along the axis of the slide and extend beyond the
interpreted limits of movement. A line, perpendicular to the slide axis, can also be used as
shown in Figure 7.6. The stakes should be surveyed on a regular basis with increased
frequency in the rainy season; and immediately before and after the season. Movements
should be recorded in the X, Y and Z directions. The results can help defining the type of
slide, the rate of movement, changes in the slide limits, and areas of greatest activity. The
vector sums of the X, Y, and Z movements can be plotted and used to help model the
actual shape of the failure surface.

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Figure 7.6: Distribution of Survey Stakes and Inclinometers in a Landslide.

Piezometer instrumentation should be designed to accurately record specific groundwater
heads that exist along the slip plane and within the slide mass. Normally, enough
piezometers shall be installed at different depths to accurately model the groundwater
conditions. It could be possible that the disturbed materials may create a less permeable
zone, which can lead to the build-up of an artesian pressure along the surface of failure
which can decrease stability. A piezometer should be installed in that zone to determine if
this condition is present.
Landslides often occur after periods of prolonged and heavy rainfall. In Ethiopia, this is
most likely to happen during the wet season between July and the end of September. In the
southern part of the country, this period may extend to October and November as severe
and localized rainfall can occur during this time. In general, monitoring of roadside slopes
where landslides are expected should be carried out:
Shortly before the onset of the rainy season to see the presence of any signs of
instability even at dry conditions,
During the rainy season, to monitor and investigate how the landslide is initiated
and the rate of displacement,
Immediately after the rainy season to ascertain the extent of damage and

Expansive soils

Expansive soils are typically clayey soils that undergo large volume changes in direct
response to moisture changes in the soil. Unlike collapsible soils, expansive soils tend to
increase in volume (i.e. swell) as the moisture content of the soil increases and decreases in
volume (i.e. shrinkage) as the moisture content decreases. Although the expansion
potential of a soil can be related to many factors (soil structure, environmental conditions,
etc), it is primarily controlled by the clay mineralogy and moisture. Soils that contain
kaolinite will tend to exhibit a lower shrink/swell potential than soils containing

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Known as vertisols in agriculture (see Section 2.4 and Figure 2.5), expansive soils are
found in the central, north-western and eastern highlands of Ethiopia, in western lowlands
around Gambella, and in some parts of the rift valley. Local deposits of these soils are also
present throughout the country near rivers; water logged areas; and in drainage restricted
localities. Damage caused by expansive clays is particularly prevalent around Addis
The pattern of swell and shrink is attributed to the dry and rainy seasons in a year. During
the dry period, desiccation cracks are formed because of shrinkage. In the rainy season, on
the other hand, water enters the cracks and forces the soil to swell. These cycles of
swelling and shrinkage can be detrimental to the performance of pavement structures.
Unlike collapsible soils, deep-seated volume changes in expansive soils are rare. More
common are volume changes within the upper few meters of a soil deposit where seasonal
moisture content changes due to drying and wetting. The zone of seasonal moisture
variation over which volume changes are most likely to occur is defined as the active zone.
The active zone can be evaluated by plotting the moisture content with depth for samples
taken during the wet and dry seasons. The depth at which the moisture content becomes
nearly constant is the limit of the active zone (which is also referred to as the depth of
seasonal moisture change).
The active zone is an important consideration in road design and construction. In the
design of bridge piles or drilled shafts for example, it is important to recognize that full
side friction resistance may not be realized in this zone. As the soil undergoes cycles of
shrinkage, it may lose contact with the pile or shaft. Alternatively, as the soil swells, it may
impose significant uplift pressures on the foundation element. Similarly, in this zone, a
reduction in shear strength, elasticity and bearing capacity may occur as a consequence of
7.3.1 Identification
In the field, the presence of surface desiccation cracks or fissures on a clay deposit are
indications of expansion. The most problematic expansive soils are typically highly plastic,
stiff, fissured, over-consolidated clays. In Ethiopia, these are characteristics of the black
clays (commonly known as "black cotton soils"), found in the central highlands and some
other areas. However, red clays in the wetter regions of Ethiopia (central and western
highlands) also show the nature of having high plasticity (Figure 7.7), and should be
subjected to laboratory tests. The clay mineral present in these soils is usually kaolin of the
halloysite type, not montmorillonite. But, kaolin in the form of halloysite has a disordered
structure, which gives rise to a soil of high potential plasticity than well-ordered kaolinites.
Red soils remain plastic until hydrated halloysite is converted to meta-halloysite upon
drying. This is accomplished in short period of time compared with black clays which
remain wet longer.

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Figure 7.7: Red Clays with Significant Plasticity around Bako in Wellega.
To identify expansive soils, several empirical relationships have been developed.
Currently, a standard classification procedure doesn't exist. Generally, soils with a
plasticity index (PI) of less than 15 percent will not exhibit expansive behaviour. For soils
with a PI greater than 15 percent, the clay content of the soil should be evaluated in
addition to the Atterberg limits. Activity can be computed from the plasticity index and
clay fraction to evaluate the swell potential as shown in Figure 7.8.
Figure 7.9 relates expansion potential and collapsibility to liquid limit and in-situ dry
density. Additional tests for the qualitative assessment of expansion potential include
percent swell calculated from the CBR test (ASTM D4429), the free swell test, and the
expansion index test (ASTM D4829). Such correlations are semi-empirical and should
only be used for an initial assessment of the expansion potential of a soil. If any of the
above empirical relationships or tests indicate a potentially expansive soil, laboratory
testing should be conducted on undisturbed samples to determine the potential swelling

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Figure 7.8: Classification Chart for Swelling Potential (after Seed et al, 1962)

Figure 7.9: Guide to Collapsibility and Expansion (after Mitchell and Gardner, 1975
and Gibbs, 1969).

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7 .3.2 Laboratory tests

For road construction in areas with expansive soils it is necessary to estimate the
magnitude of swell (surface heave) and the corresponding swelling pressures that could
occur when the soil is wet. A one-dimensional swell test can be performed in an oedometer
on undisturbed or recompacted samples according to AASHTO T256. In this test, the swell
potential is evaluated by observing and measuring the swell of a laterally confined
specimen when it is surcharged and flooded with water. Alternatively, after the specimen is
soaked, the height of the specimen is kept constant by adding load. The swelling pressure
is then defined as the vertical stress necessary to maintain zero volume change over a
certain period of time. Swelling pressures in some expansive soils may be relatively large
such that the static loads imposed from the structures of roads do little to counteract heave.
The US Bureau of Reclamation developed a correlation between observed volume change
and colloidal content, plastic index, and shrinkage limit. The measured volume change is
taken from oedometer swell tests using a surcharge pressure of 7KPa from air-dry to
saturation conditions. Table 7.1 summarizes the result of this correlation.
Table 7.1: Classification of Expansive Soils according to US Bureau of Reclamation
Colloid content % - 1m

PI (%)

SL (%)




Potential expansion

Degree of
Very high

As noted previously, potentially problematic expansive soils are located near the ground
surface. These soils have natural moisture contents equal or less than the plastic limit of the
soil. Practically, the shear strength of these materials is relatively high and therefore
presents no major concerns to shallow foundation bearing capacity or embankment slope
However, if the road design doesn't include systems that reduce the potential for large
moisture changes, then laboratory strength testing needs to be performed for the most
critical saturation condition the soil is expected to incur in the field. If the near-surface
soils undergo relatively large seasonal changes in moisture content, then shear strength
testing should be performed on specimens at the anticipated highest moisture content.

Collapsible soils

Collapsible soils are described as soils that undergo a significant, sudden and irrecoverable
decrease in volume upon wetting. These types of soils dominantly contain silt and sand
with some clayey material and rock fragments. They are usually associated with areas of
moisture deficiency, such as those in arid and semi-arid regions. In Ethiopia, they are
present in the southern part of the Omo River and in the central and southern part of the rift
valley. Often, their existence around Zeway, Shashemene, and Awassa is manifested by the
occurrence of ground cracks and potholes during heavy rains or floods due to hydrocompaction (Figure 7.10). In the Afar region, collapsible soils are present in the form of
sand dunes.

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Collapsible soils usually exist in the ground at low values of dry unit weight (density) and
moisture content. In their natural conditions, collapsible soils can support moderate loads
and undergo relatively small settlements. They are also moderately strong and exhibit a
slight but characteristic apparent cohesion. Usually, this cohesion is the result of calcareous
clay binder that holds the silt particles and rock fragments together. The clay coating and
the silt create a very loose soil structure with little true particle-to-particle contact. Upon
wetting, however, the cohesion is lost and large settlements can occur even if the load
remains constant.

Figure 7.10: Collapse holes near Shashemene

7.4.1 Identification
For rapid identification, liquid limit values can be used. If, under natural circumstances, the
void ratio of a given soil is higher than that at its liquid limit, the soil will lose strength on
absorbing water. Before saturation is achieved, the soil will undergo considerable
structural collapse accompanied by an appreciable reduction in volume. If this is observed,
then laboratory testing of undisturbed samples should be performed to quantify the
magnitude of volume reduction. Silt containing collapsible soils is also extremely erodible.
Typical pit excavation and disturbed sampling procedures can be used to obtain soil
samples for sieve analysis, hydrometer, soil classification, and Atterberg limits. For
samples to be collected at shallow depths, it may be prudent to obtain block samples from
trenches or test pits. In the rift valley, there are indications that the thickness of these soils
is greater than 8m. In this case auger sampling or shallow boring can be considered.
7.4.2 Strength
The shear strength of collapsible soils is greatly affected by the degree of saturation of the
soil. Therefore, it is essential to develop an accurate estimate of the depth to groundwater
and assess whether the degree of saturation for the deposit is likely to change during the
design life of the road (i.e. if there will be a change in the position of the groundwater

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Typical in-situ testing procedures such as DCP and CPT can be used to assess the current
shear strength of the soil deposit only if the condition will be maintained during the project
design life. If the soil eventually becomes saturated in-situ tests alone are not enough to
develop design parameters. In-situ tests should only be used to assess shear strength
properties if the results are correlated to laboratory values performed on samples at similar
moisture contents and saturation conditions. The potential for collapse can also be
evaluated in the field by performing standard plate load tests under varying moisture
Although not a design parameter, tensile strength is also important in collapsible soils to
analyse their ability to support overlying loads and withstand tectonic forces. Studies on
soil samples taken from different places in the central rift valley indicated that the tensile
strength reached a maximum value at the optimum moisture content and decrease
thereafter. Many ground cracks observed in the rift occurred two or three hours after
flooding and inundation. In this case, collapse might be initiated at shallow depth and
propagated upward leading to sudden and non-uniform settlement and cracking of the
ground surface, including the road layers.
7 .4.3 Collapse potential
For situations in which it is necessary to construct a road on collapsible soils it is of
primary importance to estimate the magnitude of potential collapse that may occur if the
soil becomes wet. The amount of collapse normally depends on the initial void ratio, stress
history of the soil, thickness of the collapsible soil layer, and magnitude of the applied
To estimate the magnitude of potential collapse in an area, a one-dimensional collapse
potential test can be performed in an oedometer on undisturbed or recompacted samples
according to ASTM D 5333. For this test, a sample is placed in an oedometer and the
vertical pressure on the sample is increased to the anticipated final loading in the field. At
this load level, water is introduced into the sample and the resulting deformation due to
collapse is recorded. The percent collapse (%C) is defined as:
% =

Where Hc is the change in height upon wetting and Ho is the initial height of the
Collapse is also described using void ratio in the form of the following:
% =


Where ec is change in void ratio upon wetting and eo is the void ratio before saturating
the soil.
The collapse potential (CP) is calculated as the percent collapse (%C) of a soil specimen.
The CP is an index value used to compare the susceptibility of collapse for various soils.
Table 7.2 provides a relative indication of the degree of severity for various values of CP.

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Table 7.2: Qualitative Assessment of Collapse



Collapse Potential (CP)

Severity of Problem

0 - 1%


2 - 5%


6 - 10%


11 - 20%


> 20%

Very severe

Dispersive soils

Soils in which the clay particles will detach from each other and the soil structure and go
into suspension without a flow of water are termed dispersive clays. These soils
deflocculate in the presence of relatively pure water to form colloidal suspensions and are
therefore highly susceptible to erosion and piping. Normally, they contain a higher content
of sodium in their pore water than other soils. However, there are no significant differences
in the clay contents of dispersive and non-dispersive soils although soils with high
exchangeable sodium such as Na-montmorillonite clays tend to be more dispersive than
In Ethiopia, dispersive soils exist in the rift valley, the southern and eastern lowlands, and
Afar, Somali and Tigray regions. Isolated occurrences of these soils can also be found in
other parts of the country. They are common in areas where pyroclastic deposits and weak
sedimentary rocks outcrop. Normally, dispersive soils tend to develop in low-lying areas
with gently rolling topography and relatively flat slopes. Their environment of formation is
also characterized by an annual rainfall of less than 850mm. Dispersive soils have low
natural fertility. Often, they are calcareous with a PH value of about 8. Suspicion of their
presence is indicated by the occurrence of erosion gullies and piping as shown in Figure
Unlike expansive and collapsible soils, it is difficult to identify dispersive soils using
conventional engineering index tests such as Atterberg limits, gradation or compaction
characteristics. Hence, engineering properties may be used to evaluate the degree of
expansion and collapse, but chemical properties determine the amount of dispersion in
soils. This means a soil classified as expansive or collapsible based on engineering indexes
can be dispersive if it contains high content of dissolved sodium in its pore water.

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Figure 7.11: Erosion Gulies at Roadcuts in the Rift Valley near Arsi Negele.
Generally, exchangeable sodium and cation exchange capacity are frequently used in
countries like South Africa, and Australia to help distinguish dispersive soils as shown in
Table 7.3. The exchangeable sodium percentage (ESP) in soils is expressed as follows:


High ESP values and piping generally exist in soils with a clay fraction composed largely
of smectite. Some illite and halloysite containing soils are also dispersive. On the other
hand high values of ESP are rare in clays composed of kaolinites (Bell and de Bruyn,
Table 7.3: Relationship between the Degree of Dispersion and % of
Exchangeable Sodium

sodium percentage



Soil dispersion test

No dispersion evident after 24 hours. Aggregates
slaked but not dispersed (milky) clay.

Slightly sodic

6 - 10

Dispersion (milky halo) evident after 24 hours. Soil

aggregates slightly disperse


6 - 10

Dispersion (milky halo) evident after several hours.

Soil aggregates partially disperse.

Highly sodic


Dispersion (milky halo) evident in less than 30

minutes. Soil aggregates completely disperse.

7 .5.1 Laboratory tests

In addition to the chemical tests needed to determine the ESP there are other laboratory
tests which can indicate the potential for dispersion of a soil. Commonly, dispersive

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characteristics are determined by performing three standardized tests and adopt a rating
The soil crumb test is an Australian standard for the prediction of the dispersive behaviour
of clay soils. The test is simple and can be used in the rapid identification. It involves the
immersion of an air dried aggregate in a beaker of distilled water, remoulding at near
maximum field capacity and re-immersion, and shaking. The potential for dispersion is
judged on the basis of the degree and speed with which the soil forms clouds in the beaker.
The dispersion test is an indicator test widely used in Australia to evaluate the
susceptibility of soils to erosion. In this test, soil is shaken end over end in a dispersant to
ensure complete dispersion. A second suspension is then prepared in a distilled water
without using either dispersant or mechanical agitation. The difference between the amount
of dispersion (measured as the % particles <2 microns) between the two tests is used to
infer dispersion risk. The dispersion index is very similar to the Double Hydrometer test
(ASTM D4211-83) routinely used in the USA for predicting dispersive behaviour of soils.
The pinhole test (ASTM D6572-06), originally developed to evaluate piping erosion, is
performed by causing water to flow through a small hole punched in the specimen and
observe the extent of dispersion. The method involves packing a 38mm long sediment
sample into a 38mm diameter metal cylinder, attaching it to a base plate, creating a
horizontal 1mm hole through the sample, and running distilled water through the hole for 5
minutes at increments of head from 50mm to 1,020mm. The water flow through the
pinhole simulates the movement of water through a crack. Erosion in dispersive soils can
occur at a head of 50mm, intermediate soils erode slowly, whereas non dispersive soils are
supposed to produce no colloidal erosion even when the head is close to 1,020mm.
7.5.2 Field identification
While laboratory tests are a useful way of identifying dispersive soils, much can be
determined by observing the behaviour of the soils in the field. For example, the
occurrence of deep erosion gullies, worm channels, and piping failure in existing
embankments indicates the presence of dispersive soils. Besides, erosion of road cuttings
along ditches or gully lines, and weathered rock joints is a sign of potentially dispersive
soils. Besides, cloudy water or high turbidity in ponds after rain is linked to the effect of
dispersive soils.
The geology of the area can also be a guide to the presence of dispersive soils. Many
dispersive soils are of alluvial origin. Soils derived from shale and claystone in
sedimentary areas and pyroclastic sediments in volcanic regions are also dispersive in
A simplification of the crump test can also be used in the field to identify dispersive soils.
Collect soil aggregates (1-2 cm diameter) from each layer in the soil profile. If moist, dry
the aggregates in the sun for a few hours until air-dried. Place the aggregates in a shallow
glass jar of distilled water or locally available small bowl of rain water. Leave the
aggregates in the water without shaking or disturbing for 2 hours. Observe and record if
you can see a milky ring around the aggregates. Classify the soil on the basis of Figure
7.12. The soil is highly dispersive if discoloration and cloudiness extends throughout the
jar or bowl.

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Figure 7.12: Test for the Dispersive Nature of Soils.

Dispersive soils should be properly compacted to avoid piping. This is especially true near
drainage structures. Care should be taken at the downstream end of culverts. As it is
suggested in the Pavement Design Chapter, it is generally recommended to compact these
soils at a moisture content above the OMC so as to form a flocculated soil structure. A
moisture content between optimum and optimum plus 2% and a density ratio of greater
than 97% is desirable. On no account should the moisture content be more than 1% below
optimum. Most dispersive soils can be rendered non-dispersive by the addition of lime or
gypsum. This process is one of cation exchange with Ca replacing Na. Laboratory tests
should be carried out to determine the required amount of lime or gypsum. Commonly one
would require from 2 to 3%.

Colluvial soils

All soils which have been transported by gravity forces and deposited in valleys, swales, or
other low-lying topographic features, often with the aid of water flow, are called colluvial
soils. They include slope-wash deposits, scree (talus), and landslide debris. Often, they are
a result of a two-stage process: in place weathering of the parent rock and subsequent
down-slope migration primarily by gravity forces. The soils are usually characterized by
being mixtures of particles of contrasting sizes from highly plastic clays to boulders.
Slope-wash deposits are admixtures of clay, sand and gravel, which moved down-slope by
the combined actions of soil creep and running water. Near the base of steep slopes, slopewash soils often overlie or are inter-stratified with alluvial deposits. The thickest deposits
are developed in depressions or gullies. Scree and talus are deposits of rock fragments
which detach from cliffs or areas of steep outcrops and fall by gravity and roll or slide
down-slope. The deposits are not water-sorted and are usually very loose and just stable at
natural angles. When the deposits contain 30% or more of fine-grained soil, they are called
Landslide debris constitutes materials which have moved downward during a slope failure.
In most cases, the soils are very variable vertically and laterally and it is not uncommon to
find large boulders embedded in clay matrices. Deposits of landslide debris are often
underlain by a sheared or slicken-sided zone (the slide surface) and there may be several
sliding and shear surfaces at different depths within the debris. In many cases, the main
slide surface may be in a zone of material which appears to be residual soil or extremely
weathered rock and is characterized by higher clay content than that of most of the debris.
In Ethiopia, colluvial soils are present in the middle slopes and foothills of mountainous
areas. They are especially common in northern, western and eastern highlands, and in river
basins such as the Blue Nile (Figure 7.13), Tekezze and Gibe. Colluvial soils are also
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present near the bases of isolated hills and domes scattered in the rift valley and other

Figure 7.13: Colluvium from Basalt and Volcanoclastic Rocks - Blue Nile basin

7.6.1 Exploration techniques

During road construction, cut slopes often have to be made in colluvial deposits located
near the base of a slope. In many cases, the cut slope exposes the colluvium. Because these
materials are formed by migration and sliding along the slope, they are often only
marginally stable in their natural state. Therefore, the cut slopes made in these deposits
tend to disrupt the natural equilibrium, thus requiring special attention during investigation.
Typical boring and sampling techniques can be utilized in colluvium to obtain samples for
evaluating the physical characteristics of the material, provided it consists primarily of
fine-grained particles and relatively thin lenses. In many cases, however, colluvium exists
as a massive deposit more than 5m in thickness with boulders and cobbles. Drilling and
sampling in colluvial soils with large rock fragments can prove to be difficult. In addition,
for new roads, potential access problems due to steep slopes and marginal stability
typically make investigation in colluvium difficult and expensive.
Test pits and trenches represent economical alternative exploration methods for colluvium.
This approach allows visual observation of the subsurface conditions in these materials.
Often they are backhoe-excavated. However, pits can also be excavated by hand in
inaccessible areas. Undisturbed block samples of colluvium can be cut from the sidewalls
of pits and trenches. In cases where rock fragments do not preclude sampling, colluvial
soils may be sampled by manually advancing Shelby tubes. Test pits and trenches can also
be used to evaluate the depth to bedrock and groundwater. Usually, the colluvium/rock
interface provides an impermeable layer that allows water to accumulate in the colluvium.
In an extended investigation, small inclinometers socketed into the underlying bedrock can
be used to monitor whether the colluvium is actively creeping down the slope. The

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measured displacements provide an indication of the relative stability of the colluvial soil
Exploration in talus is more demanding than any other colluvial deposit. This is because
talus slopes includes particles that range from silt and sand to boulders. Although
individual samples may be recovered, they are often of little use because these small
samples are indicative of only the matrix component of talus, and are not at all
representative of the mass itself. Thus, characterizing the properties of talus using
conventional boring and sampling is extremely difficult. Similarly, any in-situ test method
like DCP or CPT is often not useful because the penetration would likely meet refusal on a
large rock or boulder.
Hence, the occurrence of talus can probably best be identified by the use of aerial
photographs and site reconnaissance. This can be followed by geophysical study to
determine the depth to the bed rock, especially where a study over great lengths is
7 .6.2 Engineering characteristics
Colluvial soils are likely to be highly permeable, and compressible. As they are sorted,
they are normally poorly graded. As these materials occur close to their natural angle of
repose, excavation into scree or talus slopes usually causes ravelling failures extending
upslope. Entry of excessive water into talus materials can cause them to develop into
Landslide debris is often only marginally stable and slope instability may be initiated by
minor changes to the surface topography or to groundwater conditions. When considering
the possible use of landslide debris as fills, the critical issues are the potential variability of
the soil and the possible need to remove large boulders and cobbles.
The compressibility of many colluvial soils can generally be assessed in the laboratory
using the standard oedometer test, provided that undisturbed samples can be obtained in
the field. However, the mixture of granular material and boulders in talus often leads to
differential settlements, and compression properties are difficult to assess due to this
heterogeneity. Because of this, the design of the road should not depend on the strength of
talus deposits.
Shear strength of colluvium can be assessed from laboratory tests on undisturbed samples.
In some cases, however, the colluvium is relatively strong. It is the colluvial material and
potentially weathered rock at the colluvial soil/rock interface that represents the weakest
point. It is here that the greatest potential for sliding exists especially when there is an
accumulation of water. The shear strength of the material at this interface can be evaluated
by performing laboratory direct shear tests on remoulded samples at the expected in-situ
moisture content. In the test, residual conditions should be evaluated, especially if there is
evidence that the material had been previously displaced as a result of major landsliding or
A reliable method to evaluate the strength of colluvial soils along road cuts is to backanalyse a failed or failing slope in close proximity to the area of interest. Back-analysis
involves performing stability analyses where the values of the cohesion intercept and
friction angle are modified to achieve a factor of safety of 1.0. This method for

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determining shear strengths is only accurate if a thorough assessment of the slope

geometry and groundwater table is made. Additionally, the depth to competent rock and
the location of a known or anticipated slip surface should be assessed via borings or by
geophysical methods.

Lateritic soils

Laterites are the products of intensive and long lasting tropical rock weathering assisted by
high rainfall and elevated temperatures. In practice, laterite formation requires particular
conditions which concentrate the iron and aluminum rich weathering products sufficiently
to allow concretionary development, resulting in a cemented horizon within the profile.
Hence, the process involves tropical weathering to produce the minerals of laterite,
concentration of these minerals in a discrete horizon, and concretionary development
within the horizon.
The factors that affect the development of laterites are climate, topography, and drainage.
Laterites can be formed from any rock, but the speed with which they are formed is to a
certain extent governed by the availability of iron and aluminum, and the amount of silica.
Hence, basic igneous rocks, which contain high amount of iron and aluminum, can easily
form laterites under oxidation. Rocks rich in quartz, on the other hand, resist weathering
and may not degrade into laterite easily and quickly. Instead, the end product in these rocks
is a granular soil with fine materials forming the matrix around quartz nuclei.
Climate controls the formation of laterites more than any other factor as laterites in general
require hot, humid conditions. A mean annual temperature of 25oC has been suggested for
their formation. The minimum annual rainfall is thought to be around 750mm. The higher
the rainfall above this value, the greater is the leaching effect, which removes free silica.
Topography affects the amount, rate and direction of water flow in an area. On steep
slopes, weathering products are quickly removed by running water before they are changed
into laterites or red soils. On gentle slopes, erosion is limited and long uninterrupted
weathering provides time to produce laterites. On level ground, on the other hand, drainage
is impeded and the area becomes waterlogged to form black soils at the expense of
In addition, the concentration of weathering products in distinct horizons in a laterite
profile can be linked to fluctuating groundwater following seasonal changes in climate.
However, many laterites are ancient (Tertiary) deposits which can now be found in very
different climatic and landscape conditions from those in which they were first formed. In
Ethiopia, they are distributed in the north-western, western, and southern part of the
country. This includes the areas around Assossa (Figure 7.14) and many places in western
7.7.1 Identification
The description of laterites in the field should include their strength, colour, degree of
cementation, grading, amount of thickness and variation with depth, lateral continuity, and
ease of excavation. Laterites may contain quartz gravels which can be an important factor

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in pavement performance. This should be assessed and reported. For agricultural purposes,
red soils and laterites are often classified as Ferralsols, Nitosols, or Luvisols (see Figure
Aerial photographs are useful to identify and map laterites in remote areas. The landforms
where they occur include flat hilltops with sharp edge, gentle foot-slopes, rounded hill on
hillcrest or plain, and edge of flat valley floor. Often, laterite zones can be identified by
elevated slopes since the hardening of laterite protects the area from erosion. There are few
or no streams on lateritic slopes, soils are less fertile, and the vegetation cover is
characterized by shrubs or grassland with scattered bushes. On black and white aerial
photos, the natural strong dark red colour appears as dark grey with some masks where
there is vegetation.

Figure 7.14: Nodular Laterite - Assossa-Kurmuk Road Project.

Since the laterite horizon that can be used for road construction is located at shallow
depths, they can be investigated by trial pits. The spacing of pits depends on the extent of
the horizon and it is advisable to first start with a few pits and decrease the spacing later.
Like any material, the deposit is likely to vary in thickness, depth and quality both at an
angle and vertically.
Careful attention should be given to sampling. Laterites are distinct horizons and the whole
profile should be logged, with the samples clearly defining the potentially useful horizon.
Sufficient and representative material should be taken to allow for compaction and CBR
testing in addition to classification tests and natural moisture content.
7 .7.2 Special properties
In many places, concretionary laterite has been a traditional source of road aggregate, not
only in the form of nodular laterite (lateritic gravels), but also as a crushed derivative of

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old lateritic profiles (honeycomb and hardpan laterites). Nodular laterites commonly
comprise a gravel fraction of rounded concretionary nodules in a matrix of silt and clay,
often without sand particles. Hence, when their natural grading is close to a mechanically
stable particle size distribution, they perform well both as a base and sub-base of low
volume roads. They can also be used as gravel wearing course. Sometimes, however, the
silt and clay content renders them moisture sensitive and this has to be checked in the field.
Laterites show an irreversible change in plasticity on drying. This is partly because
dehydration of alumn-oxides creates a stronger bond between the particles, which is
resistant to water. The process cannot be reversed by rewetting. The effect takes place
during air-drying but becomes more pronounced on oven drying at higher temperatures.
Another aspect of lateritic materials which is relevant for road construction is their selfhardening nature that increases their strength. This is seen as a time-dependent
improvement in performance. Any potential improvement in performance as a result of
self-hardening is dependent on the proportion of oxides present in the matrix.
Immature or relatively young laterites, known as plinthite, are the most likely to exhibit
self-hardening. However, they lack a mechanically stable grading for use in road
construction. Immature nodular laterites may also have self-hardening properties and could
undergo significant improvement with time. Hence, the laterites which are normally
considered mechanically unstable and too plastic using standard requirements have been
known to give satisfactory performance in service. For this reason, many nodular laterites
can be used as base, sub-base and gravel wearing courses, especially for low volume roads.

Saline soils

Soluble salts covering large areas of lower ground often occur in arid regions. These salts
are normally chlorides and sulphates of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. In
Ethiopia they cover the northern portion of the Afar region in and around the Dallol
depression (Figure7.15). The presence of small amounts of salt does not have a major
effect in soil embankments and road-bases. But when the quantity is high as is the case in
Dallol, salt can produce rapid corrosion of metal reinforcement in concrete. Hence, salt
bearing sands should be washed before they are used for concrete making. As much as
possible, the concrete should also be impermeable.

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Figure 7.15: Salt Deposits in the Dallol Depression (Northern Afar region).

Salts have no deleterious effect on bituminous materials but blistering of the surface as
shown in Figure 7.15 can occur where salts are present below the road. Such blistering
occurs when evaporation exceeds precipitation, bringing saline groundwater upwards to
the surface. This process is hygroscopic in nature, so that when evaporation brings saline
water upward during the heat of the day, more salt comes from below throughout the cool
of the night.
It has been suggested that a dense bituminous surface of about 30mm in thickness can
inhibit the day time evaporation and reduce the rate at which the salt crystals develop. In
some cases, however, there might be a need to use coarse grained aggregates at the subbase level to limit evaporation. When water exists, ponding can also be used to remove
salts from soils.
The occurrence of saline soils in an area and their geographic distribution is almost always
controlled by climate. Hence, aerial photographs are usually enough to map their spatial
extent. Pits might only be needed to assess the concentration of salts with depth.

Degradable rocks

On many road projects, construction activities involve the use of potentially degradable
rocks. Although these materials may at first exhibit rock-like characteristics, they have the
ability to degrade to soil-size particles. Often, the gradual but ultimate degradation occurs
quickly. Shale is the most common member of this family, but includes clay-stone,
siltstone, marl and mudstone. Pyroclastic deposits such as ash and tuff are also easily
In some regions of Ethiopia, where high-quality granular soil is not locally available for
use in the construction of embankments or rock-fill, degradable materials such as shale and

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pyroclastic deposits that at first appear to be suitable are often used. However, once in
contact with water, these materials may degrade causing problems or failures during the
service life of the road. Deep bridge foundations, especially rock-socketed drilled shafts,
which may be designed to provide intimate contact with and support from the rock
interface, may fail as the materials degrade and contact is lost. In shallow foundations, the
bearing capacity may decrease as the materials degrade resulting in settlements.
Additionally, in road cuts, the exposure of the cut to the air may result in significant
degradation during or soon after construction ends (Figure 7.16). The degradation can take
the form of swelling, weakening, and disintegration. The effect of degradation on slope
stability can range from sloughing at the surface and the gradual retreat of the face, leading
to catastrophic slope failures as a consequence of the significant loss in strength. In
sedimentary formations comprising alternating beds of resistant sandstone and degradable
shale, the weathering process can develop overhangs in the sandstone and produce rock
falls as observed in the Blue Nile basin, Dire Dawa area, and in the Tigray region where
these rocks are present.
When potentially degradable materials are encountered, it is essential to establish the
anticipated performance of the materials over the design life of the road. An assessment of
the time required for significant degradation relative to the service life of the structure
should be evaluated. Commonly, the point load test, the slake durability test (ASTM
D4644), and the jar slake test are used to make this assessment. The jar slake test is
somewhat easier and less quantitative than the first two and can be used for rapid
evaluation for use in LVRs.

Figure 7.16.: Degradable Shale Underlying a Sandstone Layer - Road Cut near Kulbi.
The procedure for the jar slake test is summarized below:
A piece of oven-dried material is immersed in enough water to cover it by 15mm.
After immersion, the piece is observed continuously for the first 10 minutes,
followed by an additional 20 minutes of discontinuous, but careful, monitoring. If a

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reaction between the water and the rock is to occur, it will usually happen during
this time.
A final observation of the condition of the rock is made after 24 hours.
Based on the visual observations, the Jar Slake Index is established using the
criteria described in Table 7.4.

The result from the jar slake test can be used to roughly assess whether any potentially
degradable material may be considered as a rock-fill, soil, or as intermediate material
between soil and rock-fill. Intermediate materials are considered to be non-durable
materials and need to be conditioned to be soil-like prior to any use as a construction

Table 7.4: Guide to Interpret of the Result of the Jar Slake Test
Jar Slake

Degrades rapidly to a pile of flakes or mud

Breaks rapidly and/or forms many chips

Breaks slowly and/or forms few chips

Breaks rapidly and/or develops several fractures

Breaks slowly and/or develops few fractures


General behaviour during test

No change

Soft, non-durable materials
treated as soil.

Hard, non-durable
intermediate material
Durable rock-fill materials, if
the material finer than
gravel-sized fraction is less
than 20 to 30%


The impact of groundwater on the long term performance of a road requires thorough
investigation during exploration. Unidentified subsurface water has been responsible for
pavement failures in many places. If groundwater is not identified and adequately
addressed early, it can significantly impair constructability, road performance and slope
stability. Claims related to unforeseen groundwater conditions often form a significant
proportion of contractual disputes. Many of these claims originate from a failure to record
adequate groundwater information during site investigations.
As shown in Figure 7.17, groundwater can affect the roadway when contact springs or
seeps are intercepted in cut sections, when fault or artesian springs appear either above or
below the road, and when there is a seasonally fluctuating groundwater table. A spring or
seep is a place where water from an aquifer discharges naturally onto the land surface.
There are two types of springs: gravity and artesian. Water may flow by gravity from a
water table aquifer or by pressure from an artesian aquifer. Thermal springs are considered
as artesian springs. Gravity springs result where water moves from the water table aquifer
through a permeable formation to the land surface because of an elevation gradient. They
are normally low yielding, but may supply enough water that can destabilize the road cut
and the pavement structure.

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There are three principal types of gravity springs: depression springs, contact springs, and
fracture springs. A depression spring is formed when the land surface intercepts the water
table in permeable material at low topographic spots. A contact spring is developed when
the downward movement of water is restricted and deflected laterally to the land by a layer
of impervious material. Fracture springs occur when water emerges from joints of a rock.
Sinkhole springs appear from solution channels in limestone or gypsum. Faulting can also
form a boundary to ground water flow and force water in the aquifer to discharge as a fault
spring. Generally, spring flows vary considerably throughout the year, depending on the
rise and fall of water in the water table or the variation of pressure in an artesian aquifer.
In the field the presence of wetlands and thick vegetation, seepage and springs from natural
slopes, free flowing wells, evidence of slope instability such as vertical scarps, old
landslides and inclined trees, fractured rocks, transported sandy soils, and unlined
irrigation canals and dams, indicate the occurrence of groundwater. The geology of the
area, as described in Table 7.5, can also suggest whether a substantial amount of seepage is

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Figure 7.17: Illustration of the Movement and Occurrence of Groundwater Near Roadways

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Table 7.5: Characteristics of Rocks as Potential Sources of Seepage at Road Cuts

Types of rocks

Metamorphic and
intrusive igneous rocks

Sandstone and limestone

Shale, clay-stone, marl,

siltstone and mudstone

Sand and gravel

Volcanic rocks

Weathered rocks

Occurrence of seepage or springs

Fresh and strong bedrocks of metamorphic and intrusive igneous
rocks contain very little or no primary porosity and yields water only
from fractures within the rock (secondary porosity). Typically, well
yields are very low. Springs go dry after flowing for only a short
period of time. In general, these units neither store nor transmit
much water and are of only minor importance as sources of seepage.
Typically, the primary porosity in sandstones is very significant but
it is negligible in limestones. However, the secondary porosity in
limestones may be considerable. Sandstones are most important as
sources of groundwater. Limestones are also the sources of some of
the largest well and spring yields. Both karstic and fractured
limestones are capable of producing very high amount of seepage.
Thinly bedded weak sedimentary rocks contain some secondary
porosity along fractures and minor primary porosity along bedding
planes. These bedded clays and silts generally do not yield adequate
water to supply springs.
Unconsolidated mixtures of sand and gravel contain varying
amounts of fine materials. When the latter is a small amount, their
ability to transmit groundwater can be high, and springs from them
may come with a high amount of water.
Extrusive igneous rocks contain secondary porosity along fractures.
When well fractured, they often have high spring yields. Basalts,
rhyolites and other volcanic rocks are among the most productive
water-bearing formations in Ethiopia.
Unconsolidated materials, commonly termed regolith or saprolite,
are derived by weathering of the underlying bedrock, and contain
only primary porosity. Water generally moves readily in these
materials, but well and spring yields are commonly low because the
available thickness is often insufficient for an adequate supply.

In upgrading or rehabilitation projects, distress or patch patterns on existing pavements,

wet spots or sub-grade material piping through cracks or joints, and undulating road
surfaces may suggest the presence and seasonal fluctuation of groundwater in the area.
In all phases and types of investigation, an appropriate record of the groundwater condition
should be prepared. The record should include the source of groundwater, the location of
seepage points or springs with respect to the road alignment, the amount of groundwater
inflow, the elevation of the water table and its variation with changes in river discharges,
seasonal effects, and pumping from nearby wells. The source of seepage may be from
water stored in the aquifer or an adjacent stream or lake. This depends on the geological
and environmental features of the area and the permeability of the rock. Measurement of
seepage flow rates gives a broad indication of the proportion of rainfall which infiltrates,
the response of the groundwater to storms, and areas where high groundwater flow rates
may be expected.
If borings are drilled along a road alignment where groundwater is expected, groundwater
levels should be monitored for a sufficient period of time to establish the seasonal
variations likely to occur during the construction period and beyond. Both short and long
term methods can be used to observe the groundwater level. Short-term methods rely on
observing drilling tools and cuttings for water contact and measuring the depth from the

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ground surface to the water level. These observations are more reliable in sands and
gravels. Long-term measurements need the installation of piezometers and the assessment
of historical data.
Groundwater must also be investigated to determine the occurrence of a perched water
table and its level and the presence of sub-artesian conditions. When water is encountered
in a boring, it should be reported as a "water level" unless its specific occurrence is known
(i.e. water table, perched, or artesian). The chemistry of the groundwater should also be
checked because seepage from some rocks may be highly corrosive to metals and concrete.
This is especially true in broad flat areas of Afar and Somali regions where soils contain
abundant sulphates and have a widespread surface or near-surface crusts of halite. Changes
in the temperature of the groundwater should also be monitored and recorded.
Groundwater is frequently encountered along road cuts in many parts of Ethiopia. In areas
where springs and seepages are present, there are several good indicators that may be used
to determine the height that groundwater may rise in a slope and roughly how long during
the year that the slope remains saturated. In the highland areas where weathered basaltic
lava flows are common for instance, iron compounds within the slope usually oxidize
when in contact with groundwater and turn rusty red or bright orange and give the soil a
mottled appearance. The depth below the ground surface where this effect first occurs
indicates the average maximum height that this fluctuating water table rises in the slope.
At locations where the water table remains for long periods during the year, the iron
compounds are chemically reduced and give the soil layer on the slope a grey or bluishgrey appearance. The occurrence of these soils indicates a slope that is saturated for much
of the year. Occasionally, a mottled appearance may appear above a grey subsoil. This
indicates a seasonally fluctuating water table above a layer that is subjected to a prolonged
saturation. The geotechnical engineer should be aware of the significance of mottled and
grey soils that are going to be exposed during road construction. These soil layers give
clues to the need for drainage or extra attention concerning the stability of the road cut.
In general, the Geological Survey of Ethiopia or water drilling agencies should be
contacted if boring and long term surveys are needed. The installation and closure of wells
and standpipes penetrating the groundwater table is regulated by government laws and
regulations and should only be pursued by qualified institutes in compliance with all
applicable regulations.


Wetlands are dynamic ecosystems that have characteristics between deep-water bodies and
uplands. Some wetlands are wet all year-round, and others are wet only seasonally. There
are different types of wetlands in Ethiopia. These include:
Seasonal and permanent riverine wetlands along many of the minor and major
rivers such as Awash;
Palustrine wetlands (swamps and marshes) in the highlands and adjacent lowlands;
Lacustrine wetlands in the surroundings of lakes in the rift valley;
Montane peat bog wetlands near towns and villages;
Man-made wetlands around dams such as Koka and Metahara.

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The design and construction of roads across wetlands usually has a significant impact on
the surrounding ecosystem. Hence, care needs to be taken during site investigation or
earlier in the route selection process to locate the road alignment away from wetlands.
However, when wetlands must be crossed, it is advisable to minimize the total wetland
road distances and their width. The design should also include upland road approaches to
wetlands so that surface runoff is diverted before entering the wetland. Similarly, it is
worthwhile to avoid using fills in wetlands if other alternatives exist. However, if a fill is
necessary, then the design should include wide culverts in the fill to prevent constriction of
expected flood flows.
During site investigation, the survey should, as a minimum, determine the type and depth
of wetland soils. Normally, there is a need to prepare a location map that shows the
boundaries of wetlands, and profiles and cross sections which describe the existing
landscape. These might include channel grades, existing drainage systems, bridges,
culverts, channel restrictions, existing ground elevations and topographic information
needed for the design of structural components, and the location and elevation of necessary
soil borings.
When borings are needed, their intervals shall be determined by the size of the wetland, the
type of road, and the characteristics of subsurface materials. A minimum of three shallow
borings is required when relatively uniform wetland bottoms are encountered. These
borings are usually taken at the centreline and on each side of the road, halfway between
the shoulder and the toe of the slope. At least one boring should extend about 3m below the
apparent wetland bottom to provide adequate evidence against a false rock stratum. In the
absence of borings, the degree of bottom resistance may be assessed by advancing augers.
Any CBR and swell test for wetland soils shall be conducted under long (ten-day) soaked
Scheduling of work in wetlands is very important. In some swamps and marshy areas, it
may be easier to access the site during dry periods. The size of land covered by water in
these areas varies significantly from year to year. Looking into the condition of the local
climate may help deciding the time of access that best suits site investigation.
Permits may be needed when a road crosses wetlands. Hence, it is recommended to check
regulations and get advises from the relevant local governmental departments.

Disposal sites

Site investigation is also sometimes necessary for selection of sites in advance to dispose
of excess materials from excavations and grading, and for long and short-term stockpiling
of these materials so that they can be used during maintenance. The general watershed
criterion for selecting any disposal site is an area where the material will not erode into any
part of the channel network, and where it will not initiate a formerly dormant landslide.
The site investigation process is useful to determine the location of existing disposal sites,
potential disposal sites, and locations of significant spoil generation along roads.
Site investigations should include the disposal area size, distance to watercourses, potential
slope instabilities, listed species habitat, archaeological sites, nearby residential areas,
access, and other limiting factors. Preparing a map as early as possible that indicates sites

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(existing and potential) with acceptable site characteristics will help later during
construction. The objective of the site investigation shall be the following:
Seek a stable site where sediment cannot reach the stream during any high water
Avoid adjacent riparian corridors or any area within the 100-year floodplain.
Avoid all wetland sites as these sites are protected from disposal activities and
permits will be required and may not be granted.
Avoid placing spoil on unstable slopes, where the added weight could trigger a land
movement. Excessive loading of clay or silt soils could also trigger a failure.
Use wide, stable locations such as rock pits, ridges, and benches as places to
dispose of fill.
Avoid locations where ground water emerges or a thick organic layer is present.
Avoid sites with endangered or threatened plant species.
Test pits and trenches are normally sufficient to investigate potential disposal sites.
Sometimes, the pits should be deep enough to better define the underlying materials and
their stability, and determine the level of groundwater and any seasonal fluctuation.

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Chapter 8
Construction Material Surveys

One of the principal concerns of road design and construction is the availability of sufficient
suitable construction materials in the vicinity of the alignment. Material availability is critical
to the road design and the design is not complete if it does not contain a complete list of the
borrow pits and quarries from which soils and rocks are to be taken. Generally, apart from the
quality and volume, borrow pits and quarries must be:
Accessible and suitable for efficient excavation;
As close as possible to the site to minimize costly hauling of materials;
Economical for use in the construction with little or no treatment; and
Located to ensure that their exploitation will not lead to any complicated legal
problems and will not unduly affect the local inhabitants or adversely affect the
Often, exploration of an area to establish the source of construction materials has the
objective of determining:
The nature of the deposit, including its geology;
The history of previous excavation and possible mineral rights;
The depth, thickness, extent and composition of the strata of soil or rock that are to be
The condition of groundwater including the position of the water table, its variations,
and possible flow of surface water into the excavation ground; and
The property of soils and rocks, for the purposes intended as well as the purposes for
which they had been used previously.

Investigation procedures

Table 8.1 presents the techniques that are needed to identify and locate the source of
construction materials. Normally, the search for materials in road design start during the desk
study phase of site investigation. At this stage, the location of existing and previously used
quarries and pits in the project area and estimates of quality and quantities in existing sources
and any encountered problems should be established. It is also important to identify likely
areas for further exploration, the range of sub-grade conditions along the proposed alignment,
climatic details including rainfall, rainfall intensities and evaporation, the geology of the area,
project materials required in terms of quality and quantity, project economic, contractual and
time-related constraints, proposed road design standards, and likely soils and aggregate
testing requirements.
Records of roads already built in the area can be a valuable source of data, not only on the
location of construction materials, but also on their excavation, processing, placement and
subsequent performance. Records of material usage are an essential part of efficient
construction materials management. In Ethiopia, road design and construction records are
kept by different departments of the Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA), the Regional Road
Authorities, or by road design consultants and construction supervising organizations and

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Table 8.1: Techniques that Assist the Investigation of Construction Materials

Field activity
Surface mapping

Aerial photo
Filed survey and
sample description

Trial pits and





In situ tests
Hydrology data
Climatic data

Both geological and geomorphological mapping and may include the
acquisition of hydrological, vegetation and climatic data and the mapping
of earthwork exposures. Surface data gathering can comprise a formal
materials inventory approach.
The systematic recording of material characteristics including the use of insitu behavioural testing. All samples and exposures should be logged using
these standard guidelines
The systematic recording of material characteristics including the use of in
situ behavioural testing. All samples and exposures should be logged using
these standard guidelines.
May be hand or machine dug; particularly cost effective in the examination
and logging of material fabric and the delineation of mass structure.
Caution should be exercised in geotechnical interpretation of areas where
weaker materials underlie strong rocks. Pits and trenches are very useful
for obtaining bulk samples.
These may be sunk by a number of percussion, or rotary methods. The
techniques employed should be chosen to take into account the type and
condition of material involved. In some locations options may be restricted
by economic or access constraints.
Can range from hand augering to machine driven hollow stem augering
with undisturbed sampling.
Relatively inexpensive procedure that can be effective in delineating
boundaries to soft or weak materials and in the recording of general in situ
material condition. Quarry drills may be used in conjunction with cored
holes for correlation.
Seismic refraction is the most generally used procedure; best utilized to
interpolate or extrapolate in situ conditions in conjunction with boreholes.
Caution required in environments where stronger material may overlay
weaker formations.
Utilized for calculation of CBR values for in situ sub-grade.
Installation of piezometers to measure water table depths.
Possible set-up of thermograph, hygrograph an anemometer.

During the reconnaissance survey, the assessment of the area should aim to describe the
general location of resources that were identified earlier from maps in the desk study, to
provide recommendations of areas for further investigation. Access to these areas and
environmental aspects should also be evaluated. In addition, the quality and quantities of
available materials for different layers of the road should be defined at a basic level.
At the preliminary site investigation stage, the options available for selection of construction
materials within a road project should be finalised. Sufficient information should be
recovered to establish a material supply strategy and ensure that minimum costs are
associated with providing suitable quality materials. A materials supply strategy requires
factors such as:
Cost per cubic metre of extraction and processing to comply with quality
requirements, including cost of land, royalties, quarry/pit preparation, extraction costs,
processing costs and reinstatement costs;
Cost of haulage from source to site on road; largely a function of distance, although
the relative state of quarry access roads and socio-economic factors are also
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Resource size (e.g. the need to balance the economics of developing a number of
small cheap quarries compared with one larger quarry);
The relative quality of all resources being considered;
Environmental impacts and associated costs (e.g. costs over and above normal reinstatement, cost benefits in terms of the utilization of quarry sites for waste disposal,

The final site investigation phase should aim at providing sufficient information that allows
final decisions on the resources within the framework of the material supply strategy. At this
stage, the three dimensional shape of deposits, the nature of their contact with surrounding
materials, and the thickness of overburden and underlying strata must be known. Thickness and
variation in thickness, together with removal and storage of overburden and waste are critical
features that need to be assessed at this stage. The structures of hard rock resources need to be
developed and the approach to extraction (i.e. blasting or mechanical excavation) should be
worked out. The state of weathering or alteration should also be established as this may define
the use for materials for different pavement layers. The principal outputs from this phase of
investigation are detailed reports confirming construction material quantity and quality.
8.2.1 Aerial photographs
For many years, the search for construction materials were based on ordinary methods of
exploration (location survey), from the simple examination of the ground to the use of open
pits. In recent years, geophysical methods and aerial photo interpretation have gradually been
added, saving a great deal of time, effort and exploration costs. Standard surface and subsurface site investigation techniques such as boring are also employed on large road
construction projects. These may be augmented by the use of quarry drills or borrow pit
excavation plant at sites where extensions to existing reserves need to be proven.
In Section 3.2, reference was made to the use of photo interpretation for site investigation.
Photo interpretation is a method useful to explore large areas at a low cost. It is known that
the location and abundance of construction materials primarily depends on geology. In
addition, topography plays a role to limit the extent of construction materials in an area. For
example, conspicuous landforms are useful to find small occurrences of granular deposits that
are difficult to locate in the field due to lack of exposure.
Also, the gradients of hills are easily determined from aerial photographs and provide
important indicators in searching for suitable construction materials. For example, in flat
terrain where the gradient is less than 5 o, weathering is deep and rocks are highly weathered
to form thick layers of soils. When the slope is more than 30 o, very little soil is retained on
the surface and the thickness of weathered rock is also greatly reduced. With further
steepening of the slope, increasingly more fresh rock appears on the surface and, when the
slope is more than 60o, there will usually be outcrops of predominantly fresh rock.
Drainage patterns are also useful to identify different types of construction materials. For
instance, in regions where rocks are bare, drainage patterns are decidedly more different than
those in an area with thick alluvial deposits. Likewise, drainage patterns develop differently
in horizontally layered rocks compared to tilted beds. A dense and finely textured drainage
pattern with rounded ridges and gullies may indicate impermeable, highly plastic clayey
materials. This pattern contrasts with those observed in areas where there is high infiltration,
indicating the existence of permeable and well-drained gravel or sand materials.

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Moreover, erosional features and tonal variations of aerial photographs indicate the type of
underlying materials. Terrain covered by shale for instance is more susceptible to erosion
than those made up of well-cemented sandstones. Limestone shows solution cavities that can
be seen on aerial photos. Well consolidated soils are more resistant to erosion than
unconsolidated varieties. Fine-grained deposits, provided they are not moist, usually show
light tones irrespective of their natural colour as a result of reflection of light by grains.
In general, accurate interpretation of aerial photos is very important to locate existing or
previously used construction materials near the road alignment, estimate quality and
quantities of these materials, and identify likely areas for further exploration.
8.2.2 Pits and borings
When the interpretation of aerial photos is not enough, it is important to use geophysical
methods, pits, trenches and borings. As indicated in Section 3.3, geophysical methods
especially seismic refraction, provide economical and rapid means of computing the volumes
of soft and hard materials and distinguish between the different formations.
Pits and trenches are also necessary for the cost effective assessment of the quality and
quantity of construction materials. In upgrading, reconstruction and rehabilitation projects
especially, the presence of an old road allows the use of shovels and hydraulic excavators for
digging long trenches and pits of about 5m deep or more. This depth can increase with the
progress in excavation as new ground could allow the excavator to dig deeper. Pits and
trenches are necessary within and around the deposit to assess the quality and quantity of
materials. Generally, the total number of pits and trenches and their spacing throughout the
deposit is determined by the Geotechnical or Materials Engineer at the site based on the
condition of the subsurface. In every test pit or trench, all layers including top soil and
overburden, should be described and their thicknesses measured. The log of each test pit shall
be accurately drawn and together with the description it should be included in the soils and
materials report.
For large scale production, borings can be employed to assess the availability of good
materials deeper than the level where pits can reach. Boring data can also be used to confirm
what has been interpreted from geophysical exploration in areas where the overburden is
thick. Previous practice was to arrange a specific number of borings based on the volume
(cubic meters) of material to be exploited. However, this practice should be avoided as it
takes neither the heterogeneity of the formation nor other geological conditions into account.
Normally, borings should be arranged to facilitate the preparation of geological cross sections
with some located at the ends of the anticipated cross sections, outside the planned
excavation limits.
When used after geophysical exploration, borings should be located at the intersection of
profiles to assist in correlation. In addition, depending on the condition of the subsurface
geology and stratigraphy, it may be necessary to drill a number of angle holes to estimate the
extension of a layer or layers, which can be used as sources of good materials.

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Chapter 8
Construction Material Surveys

Material types

The soil and rock materials in the vicinity of a road are needed for the construction of
different layers in a pavement. They are then selected according to the purpose for which they
are going to be used. Generally, materials are used for common fill, sub-grade and capping
layer, drainage filters, sub-base, road base, and surfacing courses. The investigation methods,
the time needed, and the cost of exploration vary on the basis of material usage.
8.3.1 Common Fill
Almost all materials that can be economically excavated can be used for common fill.
Exceptions could be peats, organic clays, and inorganic clays with high liquid limit (in excess
of 100%) and plasticity (Pt, OH, MH, and CH in the USCS see Figure 4.1). Problems may
also exist in lacustrine and flood plain deposits where very fine materials are abundant.
The volumetric need for fill materials on a road project is largely governed by the requirements
of the vertical alignment, either to cross undulating terrain or to raise the road pavement above
potential flooding or other water ingress. Table 8.2 gives the fundamental requirements of a
fill material. At a minimum, it should have high placed stability and resistance to erosion.

Table 8.2: General Requirements for Fill Materials.



Resistance to

Haul distance

Material requirement
The material when placed and suitably
compacted must be capable of standing at the
appropriate designed slope angles, both in the
short and long term.
The material when placed in the
embankment, particularly at or close to slope
faces, must be capable of resisting erosion by
exposure to rainfall, both directly and
indirectly by surface run-off. Internal erosion
must be resisted by using non-dispersive soil.
The long term effects of alternate wetting and
drying (slaking) must also be resisted.
Rock fill or soil-rock fills must be capable of
resisting in-service degradation which could
result in internal erosion, settlement or
Potential material must be within physically
and economically feasible haulage distance.

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Investigation requirements
Shear strength unconsolidated
undrained and consolidated
drained at the relevant moisturedensity relationship.

Grading and plasticity; fabric and

mineralogy assessment. Possible
use of soil dispersion and erosion

Fabric and mineralogy

assessment. Slake durability
Mass-haul analysis in conjunction
with cut-fill earthwork balance.
This may dictate options for fill
sources in economic terms.

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8.3.2 Sub-grade and capping layer

Sub-grade materials are likely to vary along the route. A requirement for the selection of
borrow materials is, therefore, the homogeneity over significant distances which could
minimize variations in the structures and thicknesses of overlying pavement layers. The
suitability of the sub-grade material is a function of internal factors such as soil-rock type and
its interaction with external factors such as climate and the local moisture regime. Capping
layer materials, sometimes referred to as imported or selected sub-grade, are commonly
required as a cover for weak or unsuitable in situ sub-grade or on top of a common fill. Table
8.3 summarizes the requirements for potential sub-grade and capping layer materials.

Table 8.3: General sub-grade and capping layer material requirements

Key engineering



Haul distance

Material requirements
Aggregate particles need to be load
resistant to any loads imposed during
construction and the design life of the
The aggregate as a placed layer must
have a mass mechanical interlocking
stability sufficient to resist loads
imposed during construction and the
design life of the pavement.
Aggregate particles need to be resistant
to mineralogical change and to physical
breakdown due to any wetting and
drying cycles imposed during
construction or pavement design life
Reserves must be within physically and
economically feasible haulage distance.

Investigation requirements
Aggregate impact and strength

Particle size distribution, particle

shape, CBR at appropriate density
and moisture condition.

Aggregate durability test and

petrographic examination.
Mass-haul analysis, examine
potential for alternative use of substandard sub-base reserves.

8.3.3 Unbound granular pavement materials

Unbound granular materials (UBGM) used either as sub-base or base layers have to perform
a number of functions in that they provide a working platform for construction; a structural
layer for load spreading and protection of underlying layers; a layer with resistance to rutting;
and a drainage layer. For this reason sub-base and base materials are expected to meet
requirements related to maximum particle size, grading, plasticity, and CBR as it is stated in
Table 8.4.
Main sources of sub-base and base course materials are rocky hillsides and cliffs, high steep
hills, and river banks. In Ethiopia, sub-base materials have also been extracted from cinder
cones and lateritic deposits. Sub-base materials can also consist of naturally occurring coarsegrained soils or blended and processed soils. In reconstruction projects, the existing sub-grade
may meet the requirements for sub-base or treated to become a sub-base source.

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Table 8.4: The requirements for unbound granular pavement materials

Key engineering



Haul distance

Material requirements
Aggregate particles need to be load
resistant to any loads imposed during
construction and the design life of the
The aggregate as a placed layer must
have a mass mechanical interlocking
stability sufficient to resist loads
imposed during construction and the
design life of the pavement.
Aggregate particles need to be resistant
mineralogical change and to physical
breakdown due to any wetting and
drying cycles imposed during
construction or pavement design life.
Reserves must be within physically
and economically feasible haulage

Investigation requirements
Aggregate impact and strength
Particle size distribution,
particle shape, mass strength
(CBR) at appropriate density
and moisture condition.

Aggregate durability test.,

petrographic examination.
Mass-haul analysis. Examine
potential for alternative use of
sub-standard sub-base reserves.

8.3.4 Bitumen-Bound Granular Layers and Surfacing Aggregates

The general requirements for aggregate to be used as a bitumen-bound granular material
(BBGM) and surfacing aggregate are that it should be durable, strong and should also show
good adhesion with bituminous binders. If aggregate is to be used in a surfacing layer, it
should also be resistant both to the polishing and abrasion action of traffic. The main
requirements to search for BBGM aggregate are summarised in Table 8.5.
Basic igneous rocks have better adhesion properties than acidic rocks. The comparatively
poor performance of acid rocks may not only be related to the high silica content but to the
formation of sodium, potassium and aluminium hydroxides. Hence, coarse granite with large
feldspar inclusions is for instance likely to experience bitumen adhesion difficulties.
The surface course is the layer in contact with traffic loads and normally needs high quality
materials. It provides characteristics such as friction, smoothness, noise control, rut and
shoving resistance. In addition, it serves to prevent the entrance of excessive quantities of
surface water into the underlying base, sub-base and sub-grade. This top structural layer is
sometimes subdivided into two: wearing and intermediate or binder course.

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Table 8.5: Requirements for Bitumen-Bound and Surfacing Aggregate Materials

Key engineering


Skid resistance
(Surface aggregate

Haul distance

Material requirement
Aggregate particles need to be
load resistant to any loads and
abrasion imposed during
construction and the design life
of the pavement.
Aggregate particles need to be
resistant mineralogical change
and to physical breakdown due
to any wetting and drying cycles
and abrasion imposed during
construction or pavement design
Aggregate particles must be
resistant to polishing.
Aggregate must be capable of
adhesion to bitumen and
sustaining that adhesion for its
design life.
Reserves must be within
physically and economically
feasible haulage distance.

Investigation requirements

Aggregate impact and strength testing,

particle shape.

Aggregate durability tests, aggregate

abrasion tests, petrographic

Polishing tests, petrographic

Bitumen stripping tests, petrographic
Mass-haul analysis, examine potential
for alternative use of sub-standard subbase reserves.

The wearing course is the layer in direct contact with traffic loads. It is meant to take the
brunt of traffic wear and can be removed and replaced as it becomes worn. A properly
designed pavement management programme should be able to identify pavement surface
distress while it is still confined to the wearing course. In this way, the wearing course can be
maintained and rehabilitated before distress propagates into the underlying intermediate or
binder course. The latter provides the bulk of the top part of the pavement structure. Its chief
purpose is to distribute load.

Sources of materials

Generally, there are five ways of extracting materials from the ground:
Borrow pitting which is suitable for excavating unconsolidated material (e.g. gravels
and weak rocks);
Quarrying (which involves blasting of hard rock);
Cut to fill operations along a road alignment;
Mining (which refers to underground material extraction either by shaft or adits); and
Dredging (the extraction of unconsolidated material from under water).
Materials for road construction are very rarely derived from mining operations. Dredging is
also not common in developing countries due to its cost. Materials are generally obtained
from pitting, quarrying and cut to fill operations. Table 8.6 presents borrow pitting and
quarrying methods useful to extract different types of materials.

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Table 8.6: Borrow pitting and quarrying methods



Excavation type
Wet pit
Dry pit
Hard rock; predominantly by
drill and blast methods.
Weak rock; mechanical
excavation; may be aided by
light blasting

Typical materials
Alluvial sands and natural gravels below
the water table.
Alluvial, terrace, fan, beach, natural
gravel deposits, above the water table
Unweathered strong igneous,
sedimentary and metamorphic rocks
Mudstones, shales, weak limestones and
sandstones and weathered hard-rock

8.4.1 Borrow pits

Borrow pits are sources of materials for fill, selected sub-grade, sub-base, base and surface
courses of a pavement structure. A single borrow pit may often meet several of these
requirements. When compared to quarrying, borrow pits require a higher rate of land use
owing to the shallower depth and the need to exercise greater environmental control. In many
cases, materials from borrow pits are capable of excavation without the aid of explosives.
Because of the large volumes frequently required, borrow pits producing fills should not be
too far from each other to minimise hauling costs. In cases where resources are scarce there is
an emphasis on using any locally available material rather than source selection. In most
practical cases, the resulting distances should not usually be more than 5km. Special
considerations can be taken in agricultural areas where land expropriation costs can be high.
The distance between borrow pits for sub-grade and capping layer materials can be as high as
10km. For low standard roads, the sub-grade or capping layer can be made of the same
material as the common fill, the only difference being that it should be compacted better.
Borrow materials for sub-grade and capping layers are usually found in broad hills, in highly
altered basic and acidic igneous rocks, in silty-sandy sections of river bar deposits, in areas
where there are pyroclastic deposits, and in stratified sedimentary rocks.
Materials for sub-base and base course depend largely on mechanical treatments to bring
their quality up to the required levels. This often requires special equipment and processing
plants, which ideally should not be moved too far. For these reasons, borrow pits are usually
widely spaced. In the current practice, distances between them of about 50km are not
The minimum thickness of a deposit normally considered workable for excavation to select
materials for sub-grade, sub-base, and basecourse, is in the order of 1m. However, thinner
horizons could also be exploited if there are no alternatives. The absolute minimum depends
on material availability and the thickness of the overburden. If there is no overburden as may
be the case in arid areas, horizons as thin as 30cm may be excavated.
Borrow operations can be divided into dry pits and wet pits, the difference being the working
method employed in the presence of water. In wet pits, working depth is restricted and the
recovery of material is less than 100%. Dry pits are more common than wet pits and a wider
variety of materials can be produced. However, in dry seasons it is important to provide

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measures to minimize dust generation to reduce the impact on the local environment. The
main geotechnical problems in dry pit operations are face collapse, variability of the deposit,
the occurrence of large boulders, and the presence of cemented layers.
In any site investigation, the location of each proposed borrow pit should be indicated on a
key plan. The plan should also show the position of test pits; trenches and borings within and
around the borrow pit; the characteristics of the site; and the means of access that can be
used. The site plan of borrow pits shall be included in the soils and materials report.
8.4.2 Quarry materials
Quarrying involves the extraction of useful natural stone or aggregate from a hill, cliff or
mountain by a process that involves cutting, wedging or blasting. Rock is often quarried
either as building and dimension stones or crushed aggregates. The dimension-stone process
comprises the quarrying of solid blocks. In the practice of crushed-stone, on the other hand,
rocks are broken to form aggregates for a variety of purposes. Usually, they are the main
sources of materials for basecourse, gravel surfacing, bituminous mix, and asphalt wearing
course. Sometimes it may be more convenient to use crushed stones for base course rather
than natural gravels that may contain too many plastic fines. Quarries also provide large
rocks that can be used for masonry and gabion structures, and aggregates for concrete.
Quarries are common in different parts of Ethiopia. Many quarries have been opened to
supply aggregates for buildings and roads. The production in many places commonly
involves basalt, but roadside quarries in the rift valley are also sources of rhyolite, ignimbrite
and cinders. Limestone quarries are common in Dire Dawa, Harar and Tigray regions.
Similar to borrow pits, potential sources of stone in the vicinity of the road alignment are
often identified by using aerial photos during the desk study phase. During the preliminary
investigation, the regional and local geology will be accessed, and the quantity and quality of
materials will be visually determined. In upgrading and reconstruction projects especially, the
preliminary investigation can help to obtain information on known existing quarries and
produced rock gradations and amounts of rock waste, blasting patterns, types of explosives
and blasting procedures, and required processing and processing equipment (crushers,
screens, etc.). Those visually considered suitable, in terms of stone quality and quantity
should be further investigated in the final phase of site investigation.
For large production, investigation may need a series of boreholes. Consideration should also
be given to the use of a bulldozer or a mechanical excavator to prove the availability of solid
rock. However, in many cases, this is only possible during construction when equipment is
readily available. Costs relating to the haulage and processing of materials have also a
considerable impact upon the economics of a rock deposit for quarrying. Hence, material
searches are generally restricted to about a 10km corridor centring on the road.
Moreover, the cost of constructing access tracks to quarry sites offset from the road may very
well be prohibitive to development. This is especially true in areas where land is used for
agriculture. Hence, viable sources will require some kind of existing track, unless the terrain
is accessible. In addition, the material sources should have little overburden and low
extraction costs; quarry sites must be located at sites suitable for the erection of crushing
plants; blasting should be minimised to produce rock fragments suitable for crushing; and
materials should require minimal processing to achieve a suitable specification.

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The location and physical size of each potential source of stone or quarry site shall be
indicated on a plan and included in the soils and materials report. The site plan should show
the characteristic features of the site (including outcrops) and the means of access and
duration. Like any other investigations, information on the geology and topography is
desirable in order to assess quantities of rock material with a potential for improved

Laboratory tests

Materials testing programmes vary greatly in size and scope depending on the type of the
road project and associated works. Laboratory tests needed to evaluate soil and rock materials
vary according to their intended purpose. Table 8.7 summarizes the tests used to verify the
suitability of borrow and quarry materials to produce fill, sub-grade, sub-base, unbound base
course, aggregates for bitumen-bound premixes and chippings for surface treatments. These
tests can be divided into basic engineering and detailed aggregate tests. Basic tests are
associated with defining the inherent physical properties. Aggregate tests are performed by
simulating some form of geotechnical processes or engineering behaviour. In some cases,
some chemical and petrographic tests may also be needed for detailed examination.
8.5.1 Basic engineering tests
Table 8.8 presents the types of basic tests that borrow and quarry materials should be
subjected for analysis. These tests are useful for identification and classification purposes and
to establish the quality of materials according to the specifications and design procedures.
Most basic physical tests for fill, sub-grade, sub-base and base are similar except that they are
conducted in greater number and detail when used to analyse materials for unbound granular
materials. In the majority of cases no single test procedure will satisfy specification and
design requirements and a combination of test procedures will be needed.

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Table 8.7: Types of Tests required to Analyse Materials for various purposes
Standard specification compliance
Further tests recommended
Heavy compaction
Common fill (soil)
Moisture content
Atterberg limits
Moisture content
Common fill (rock)
Atterberg limits
Moisture content
Dispersion [pin hole etc]
Light and heavy compaction
CBR (soaked & unsoaked)
Atterberg limits
Heavy compaction
CBR (soaked)
Capping layer
Moisture content
Atterberg limits
Unit weight of aggregate
Linear shrinkage
Atterberg Limits
Petrographic examination
Durability (Mg and Na Sulphate
Unbound gravel (UBG) CBR (soaked)
sub-base or road-base
Heavy compaction
Finer than No. 200 sieve
10% FACT
Sand equivalent
AIV (modified)
Durability Mill (some base
materials only)
Flakiness index
Linear shrinkage
Chemical tests
Full petrographic examination
Bitumen bound base
For weaker aggregates:
and surfacing aggregate AAV
10% FACT
For fine aggregates:
Mg/Na sulphate soundness
Sand equivalent,
Water absorption
Immersion tray test
Cement and lime
Heavy compaction
stabilized aggregate
Strength (UCS)
CBR (soaked)
Material usage

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Table 8.8: Basic Engineering Tests needed for Material Analyses


Standard Procedures


T 265

Liquid limit

T 90


Simple and widely accepted


Well established soil index

and classification test.

Plastic limit

T 89


Well established soil index

test. Plasticity index (Ip =
WL-Wp) used as a key
defining parameter in many

Shrinkage limit

T 92

D427 &

Yields index information on

volume change potential.

shrinkage (Ls)

Particle size

T 88


Swell pressure

T 258



C127 &
T99 & T180


D698 &


Can give an estimate of Ip

for soils where WL and Ws
are difficult to obtain. Better
repeatability and
reproducibility than plasticity
Simple and widely accepted
test incorporating both
sieving and sedimentation. A
fundamental soil
classification tool.
Undertaken on undisturbed
or recompacted material to
determine pressure to
minimize swell.
Simple test with correlations
established with bitumen
bound material design.
Simple test. Basis of control
on site compaction of fill and
pavement materials.
Quick and simple to perform.
A convenient and widely
established test for defining
material suitability for road
construction and subsequent
quality control.

Misleadingly high moisture
contents in halloysitic and
allophane rich soils.
Influence of greater than
425m particles; moisture
condition and mixing time.
Correlations between
procedures require caution.
Influence of particles greater
than 425m; moisture
condition and mixing time.
Poor reproducibility and
Initially intended for
undisturbed samples although
remoulded material can be
Established relationships
between Ls and Ip may not
hold true for some tropical
Interpretation problems with
aggregated particles or weak
clasts. Requires particle density
Only measures swelling
pressure not swell amount. Soil
or fine aggregate only.
Variability in multi-clast type
Zero air voids a function of
particle density- highly
variable in tropical soils.
An empirical test only.
Correlations with other
parameters may be materialspecific. Dependant on
transient soil moisture-densityvoid ratio conditions. Three
test points are recommended.

Generally, the procedure is that one set of tests is made during the preliminary or final site
investigation and other sets are performed subsequently during construction. The first set of
test results will permit the selection of the most promising zones within the borrow area. The
final sets of tests are needed to establish the extent of the mineable portion of the deposit.
Sometimes, highly weathered rocks tend to break down during compaction. For gravels
derived from these rocks, the grading of the specimen compacted closest to 95% MDD shall
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be determined after compaction and CBR testing, and compared with the grading before
compaction. To assess the suitability of materials in the field, other simple tests than those
listed in Table 8.8 are necessary. These tests are summarized in Table 8.9.

Table 8.9: Field tests useful to identify engineering properties of soils and rocks
Field test
Fines content

Hand sample
index strength

Point load

Field durability
or dispersion

Field plasticity

Relative percentages of silt/clay: dilatancy test.
Use of Schmidt hammer on solid rock exposure or large boulder can be correlated
to estimated compressive strength.
Use of small geological type hammer on hand or core sample:
Very weak: easily broken in hand.
Weak: broken by leaning on sample with hammer.
Moderately weak: broken in hand by hitting with hammer.
Moderately strong: broken against solid object with hammer.
Strong: difficult to break against solid object with hammer.
Very strong: requires many blows of hammer to break sample.
Extremely strong: sample can only be chipped with hammer.
Simple test with portable equipment. Correlates with unconfined compressive
strength (UCS).
Immerse samples in still water for 30 minutes and observe behaviour:
No effect.
Noticeable drop in strength.
Slowly breaks into pieces under light finger pressure.
Slowly crumbles to small blocks under light finger rapidly breaks into pieces.
under light finger pressure.
Rapidly crumbles to small blocks under light finger pressure.
Rapidly crumbles to small blocks.
Disintegrates to sediment.
Prepare a ball 2 or 3 cm in diameter. Moisten so that it can be modelled without
being sticky. Roll to a 3mm thread adding water if necessary. At 3mm the material
should start to break, then remould into a ball and carry out the following:
Ball is hard to crush does not crack/crumble = high clay content.
Tends to crack/crumble = low clay content.
Impossible to make a ball = high sand or silt content, very little clay..
The ball has a soft or spongy fell = organic soil.

8.5.2 Aggregate tests

In addition to basic engineering tests, crushed stone aggregates are sampled so that their
potential as construction materials can be assessed in the laboratory. Testing is aimed at
verifying the suitability of the rock to produce unbound basecourse materials, aggregates for
bitumen-bound premixes and chippings for surface treatments. The engineering properties
which make rock important for all these purposes include its resistance to crushing and
abrasion, specific gravity, water absorption, property to polish, and the size and shape of the
crushed rock chipping. Tests are normally needed first during site investigation to evaluate
the behaviour of the rock from a potential quarry site or crushed aggregate source, and later
during construction when a fresh face of rock in the quarry is exposed for work.

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Table 8.11 gives the list of tests required to assess aggregate strength and durability. The
strength tests involve evaluating the resistance of selected aggregate to either impact or load,
whilst durability procedures deal with assessing the performance of aggregate when subjected
to some form of artificially imposed degradation or weathering. Some test procedures, such
as Los Angeles Abrasion, encompass elements of both strength and durability testing.
Aggregate crushing value is used to evaluate the crushing strength of available supplies of
rock and to make sure that minimum specified values are maintained. The Los Angeles
Abrasion value gives an indication of the impact strength in combination with the abrasion
resistance of the aggregate. The soundness tests are useful for the evaluation of aggregates
suspected of chemical decomposition. Specific gravity and water absorption assist the
interpretation of compaction tests and in the design of bituminous mixtures. Affinity for
bitumen is the ability of rock fragments to form a permanent bond with the latter.
The slake durability index test, in addition to being a useful performance indicator can
perform a significant role in indexing materials in the rock to hard soil range. The test
requires competent lumps of material. The combination of slake index with plasticity has
been suggested as a useful means of presenting results for argillaceous materials.
The tests given in Table 8.10 are also considered appropriate to assess the potential of the
quarry to produce coarse and fine aggregates for bituminous mixes and surfacing. In these
cases, such characteristics as flakiness, resistance to polishing, sand equivalent and plasticity
index of material passing the 0.425 mm sieve are usually reserved for verification during
extraction. It should also be known that considerations related to gradation is governed to a
large extent by the crushing process and may be left for verification during construction.

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Table 8.10: Aggregate strength and durability tests


Standard Procedures

Aggregate grading (sieve),

aggregate sedimentation

T 27

Flakiness index (If),

elongation index (Ie)
Aggregate particle density
(Bulk particle or relative
Moisture condition value
Aggregate impact value


C136 &

Simple and widely accepted test for defining aggregate size


Differing usage of "coarse" and "Fine". Wet sieve unless little

or no fines


Standard gauge methods of ascertaining particle shape.

Parameters incorporated into coarse aggregate specifications

Use restricted to coarse aggregate only


Required in bitumen bound granular material design

Assessment of material suitability. Easy to perform. Simple
Simple test with inexpensive portable equipment giving a
basic index parameter for aggregates

Aggregate crushing value


Gives basic index parameter for aggregates commonly used

in specifications.

10% Fines aggregate

crushing tests (FACT)

Modification of ACV test, more generally used, particularly

for weaker materials.
Assesses aggregate durability as a response to repeated
crystallization and rehydration stresses. Incorporated in many


T 104

Slake Durability
Los Angeles abrasion

T 96

Accelerating polishing
Aggregate bitumen
Aggregate abrasion value




Simple assessment of durability of rock-like material.


Standard combined impact and rolling abrasion test.

Commonly used as a specification parameter

In aggregate the procedure will give an "apparent" rather than

an "absolute" value. Not directly related with soil specific
Methodology not yet proven effective for fabric-sensitive
residual soil materials.
Flakiness, elongation can influence results as well as basefloor condition. Tests limited grading.
Flakiness, elongation can influence results as well as basefloor condition. Tests limited grading. Requires compression
test machine.
As for ACV
Time consuming. Poor repeatability and reproducibility
unless great care taken over procedures.
Not generally used a suitability parameter in specifications.
Fragile materials require careful handling
For aggregate <37.5mm. Tests a specified grading only.
Measures breakdown in terms of material passing 1.68 mm
sieve only


Means of assessing the tendency for aggregate to polish.

Polished Stone Value (PSV) commonly incorporated into
surfacing aggregate specifications.

Difficult and time-consuming test not normally carried out in

standard laboratories. Selected aggregate pieces only.


Tests for assessing adhesion of bitumen to aggregate in water

Observational test only. Takes account of stripping only and

not prior coating difficulties.

Means of assessing surface wear in surfacing aggregates.

Selected aggregate pieces only.

Water absorption

T 84 & T 85

C127 &

Simple test with correlations established with bitumen bound

material design

Variability in multi-clast type deposits

Sand equivalent value

T 176


A rapid site-lab means of determining relative fines content

Dispersion problem in agglomerated minerals. Relative

proportions only

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8.5.3 Chemical and petrographic tests

Whilst the detailed chemical composition of materials may be of limited interest for road
engineering, the presence of some constituents can be of great significance. Especially, the
determination of organic matter, sulphates, chlorides and carbonates is very important.
Petrographic examinations are conducted to describe, classify, and determine the relative
amounts of the sample constituents, identify the sample lithology, to determine the sample
fabric, and to detect evidence of rock alteration. The identification of rock constituents and
determination of fabric and micro-structural features assists in the recognition of properties
that may influence the engineering behaviour of the rock. Complete petrographic examination
may require the use of such equipment as light microscopy and X-ray diffraction.


A sufficient number of samples, each of sufficient quantity, are to be taken to carry out tests
to determine the main materials and processes. All layers visually considered as suitable for
use shall be sampled. When possible, the samples shall be taken over the full depth of the
layer using vertical slices. In borrow pits, the number of samples is determined by the
heterogeneity of the subsurface and the characteristics of soils. At least one sample should be
taken per test pit or trench. When there is a major change in material property, the number of
samples should increase to include as many layers as possible. The quantity of material in
each sample must also be sufficient to carry out different types of tests.
In the case of quarries, at least 3 samples shall be taken from each potential material source.
Hand samples from existing faces or outcrops are sufficient to conduct many of the tests. The
position of each sampling point shall be accurately determined and reported on the site plan.
Each sample shall be accurately described from a geological and mineralogical viewpoint.
Great care shall be taken to ensure that the samples are obtained from sound rock and not
from a superficial horizon of weathered rock. Care is also needed to ensure that samples are
representative of the rock mass that is going to be used for different pavement layers.
The sample size that is extracted will depend on the purpose for which the material is
intended. Table 8.11 indicates typical sample sizes for common test procedures. For fill
materials, grain size distribution and plasticity limit tests are carried out for soil identification
and classification followed by compaction and swell tests. These tests in general require
samples weighing between 30kg and 40kg. For sub-grade, sub-base and base course
materials, California Bearing Ratio or similar strength tests should be conducted in addition
to identification tests. There is, therefore, a need to take about 100kg of sample.
However, up to 150kg of sample may be needed to carry out a combination of tests for the
purpose of identification, classification and design. The demand for such large sample sizes
sometimes makes the appropriate assessment of the materials very difficult during site
investigation. This is especially true for new construction projects where access is limited.
Hence, it may only be possible to take incremental samples from the production site at the
time of construction to build up the required quantity for testing. In addition, large
representative samples may be obtained by sampling from existing pits or trenches at a later
time, or by sampling additional quantities when construction begins.

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Table 8.11: Sample sizes needed for different tests

Test Procedure
Moisture content
Liquid limit
Plastic limit
Shrinkage limit
Linear shrinkage
Particle size distribution
Specific gravity
Point load test
Schmidt hammer test
Aggregate crushing value (ACV)
Aggregate impact value (AIV)
Los Angeles abrasion (LAA)
Slake durability


Minimum sample required

10 identical samples
20 tests on each sample
10 lumps, 40-50g each
24 aggregate particles
4 x 35-40 aggregate patches

The Geological Background

The geological background of natural road building materials has a profound effect on their
engineering performance. Hence, knowing the local geology before starting a site
investigation can provide a useful framework for identifying material sources easily. In
addition, a clear understanding of the geological processes that lead to the formation of the
various rocks and soils in the region may help to determine the suitability of materials for
road construction purposes, and their likely behaviour under expected traffic loads. A
graphical illustration of the performance of rocks for road building purposes is given in
Figure 8.1. Engineering concerns consider the natural state of rocks while excavation
concerns are related to their unweathered state. Generally, those rocks which can be
excavated easily such as marl and tuff are known to have a high degree of engineering

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Figure 8.1: The Relative Engineering and Excavation Concerns for Different Rocks

8.7.1 Sedimentary rocks

In addition to clastic, chemical and organic, sedimentary rocks can be divided into
arenaceous, argillaceous and carbonates based on their composition. Arenaceous rocks
include all those clastic sedimentary rocks whose particle sizes range from 2 to 0.0625mm.
The vast majority of arenaceous rocks are sandstones. The strength of sandstones depends
upon the strength and durability of the cemented grains. Strong sandstones are used as rockfill and as a base if properly graded. They are also used as surfacing aggregates.
When sandstones are used for aggregate production, attention should be given to the alkalisilica reaction. Sandstones are sometimes extremely strong and this together with the high
content of quartz makes the rock highly abrasive. This can result in high quarrying and
handling costs. Also if the rock is not well graded, it can be difficult to compact, as little
breakdown occurs under the roller. Weak and highly decomposed sandstones are easily
compacted and can be used as fills. Disintegrated sandstones, on the other hand, are useful as
sub-base materials, but they are usually excellent as sub-grades. Siliceous sandstone performs
much better than other sandstone types.
Argillaceous rocks include shales, siltstones, claystones and mudstones. They are clastic
sediments whose constituent particles are less than 0.0625mm in size. These rocks include
sedimentary rocks which are predominantly clay-silt admixtures. In the extremely weathered
conditions, all argillaceous rocks are clays and silts. Intermediate weathering conditions are
often difficult to define in these rocks. Weathering profiles are more uniform, gradational and
not deep. Most argillaceous rocks are unsuitable as materials for pavements except as subgrades for low standard roads due to their low strengths and slaking properties.
Sedimentary rocks which contain calcite as a main constitute are known as carbonates.
Limestone and dolomite are the most common calcite containing sedimentary rocks. When
fresh, these rocks have very low porosities and their permeability is negligible. Groundwater

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flow is confined to joints and other defects which are widened by solution to form cavities. In
areas where there are cavities, the construction of roads can initiate sinkholes.
Dense limestones in the strong to extremely strong range have been used extensively for the
production of crushed stone aggregates for concrete; bitumen bound granular materials; and
unbound road bases. Limestones can produce good road aggregates because they are
relatively soft and easy to crush, and usually form rounded edges when broken. Limestone
aggregates also bond well to bitumen. Disintegrated limestone is useful as a sub-base and
sub-grade material. However, limestone is rarely used as a road wearing course because it
does not perform well under traffic and often has poor resistance to polishing.
Impure black limestone found in Mekele and the surrounding regions is used as a source of
crushed stone for road bases. The rock is also very practical for use in dry masonry walls and
gabion structures. However, a few dolomitic varieties, if present, can react with the alkalis in
Portland cement causing expansion and cracking as displayed in alkali-silica reactions.
8.7.2 Volcanic rocks
The most common rock types in this group include basalt, andesite, dacite, trachyte and
rhyolite. All are extrusive igneous rocks, fine grained and strong when fresh. In this
condition, the rocks generally are very durable and could be good sources of materials for
road-bases. Where disintegration is high, volcanic rocks break into natural gravels and may
be used as basecourse materials. Moderately weathered volcanic rocks can be excavated for
sub-base and gravel wearing courses, and drainage filters.
Basalt is frequently used as road construction material in Ethiopia probably because of its
availability and high affinity to bitumen. It is followed by rhyolite and andesite. Most lava
flows show hexagonal columnar joint pattern, with the columns being interrupted by nearplanar or saucer shaped cross joints. These joints are developed as a result of shrinkage on
cooling. Basaltic rocks with well-developed columnar joints are common in the highlands of
Ethiopia. They are ripped easily with an excavator and used as a source for crushed stone.
Although all unaltered volcanic rocks are highly durable within the life-span of a pavement
structure, the basic varieties, particularly basalt, are quite susceptible to chemical weathering.
Weathering in volcanic rocks is governed by the distribution of any previously altered
material, as well as by patterns of joints and vesicular zones. When they are extremely
weathered, all volcanic rocks are clayey soils in the engineering sense.
8.7.3 Plutonic rocks
Plutonic rocks are intrusive igneous rocks which include granite and other coarse grained
varieties, formed by the cooling and solidification of large masses of viscous magma beneath
the ground surface. When fresh, plutonic rocks are durable and strong. Fresh granitic rocks
are commonly quarried for rock fill and road aggregates. Mica-rich granites are however
unsuitable for aggregates in concrete due to excessive amounts of platy fines. In addition,
granites and other acidic igneous rocks containing feldspars have a poor bitumen adhesion and
need a stripping test before they are used as bitumen bound granular aggregates.
Decomposition of feldspars and ferromagnesian minerals in granites is rare. However,
disintegration can occur leaving the quartz grains essentially unaffected. These quartz gravels
can make good quality road bases for asphalt concrete roads, or base courses for unsealed,
gravel roads.

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8.7.4 Pyroclastic rocks

Pyroclastic rocks are those which have been formed by the accumulation of solid fragments
of volcanic rock extruded into the air during eruption. The rock fragments include dense,
solidified lava, highly vesicular lava (cinder, red ash or scoria) and light vesicular material
(pumice). Pumice is formed from acidic lavas while scoria is largely associated with basic
lava flows. It is common for lava flows to be inter-bedded with pyroclastic materials (ash,
tuff and lava fragments or agglomerates) in rock sequences derived from volcanic explosions.
Pyroclastic deposits are characterized by extreme variability in engineering properties over
short distances laterally and vertically. This variation in properties resulted from differences
from the ways in which they were initially deposited and the processes to which they were
subsequently exposed. When the fragments are sand size or smaller, they form ashes, which
create tuffs when compacted. The strongly welded varieties of tuffs are called ignimbrites.
Relatively fresh ash and tuff can only be used as fills or sub-grade materials in low standard
roads. Volcanic breccias and agglomerates are useful to obtain good sub-grade materials if
they do not contain high amounts of plastic clay. Scoria (cinder gravels) is widely used for
sub-bases in many parts of Ethiopia, notably in the rift valley, and can be tried for bases if it
meets the specification requirements. Ignimbrite is as good as some volcanic rocks such as
rhyolite and trachyte to be used as a source of road-bases and sub-bases.
8.7.5 Metamorphic rocks
Metamorphic rocks are formed by the prolonged action of physical and chemical forces (heat,
pressure, moisture, etc.) on sedimentary, igneous or pre-existing metamorphic rocks. Foliated
metamorphic rocks (gneiss, schist, etc.) represent an advanced stage of metamorphism on a
large scale (regional metamorphism), and the peculiar schistose or foliated structure is due to
the more or less parallel arrangement of their mineral components. The non-foliated
metamorphic rocks (quartzite and marble) are results of alteration of sedimentary rocks
without affecting the structure and chemical composition of the original rock.
Metamorphic rocks have, as a rule, a low binding power, owing to regeneration of secondary
minerals and to the effects of heat and pressure. With the exception of gneiss, foliated
metamorphic rock such as schist and phylite are composed of some platy minerals and can
part readily along planes of schistosity. They are, therefore, not ideal for road construction.
Gneiss, owing to a high degree of crystallization and a preponderance of silicate minerals,
offer a greater resistance to abrasion. It is usually low in toughness on account of its granular
structure, but invariably shows a high resistance to wear and compressive strength. Slates, as
low grade metamorphic rocks, may be used as sources of sub-base materials.
When gneiss and associated granites are disintegrated, they break up into granitic gravels,
which have proved satisfactory for road construction. This is due to the fact that the pebbles
are sharp and angular which creates a good interlock. They also contain some binding clay
which is produced by the breaking down of feldspar minerals.
Non-foliated metamorphic rocks are rarely used as road building materials. Marble is usually
used as building stone and quartzites are too hard to work. When weakened and sufficiently
disintegrated, quartzite gravels are useful as a source of road-base and sub-base materials.

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Figure 8.2: Schematic Illustration of a Cross Section in a Quarry


The influence of weathering

The quality and durability of road construction materials can greatly be affected by
weathering or alteration. Hence, each source of gravel or crushed rock should be examined to
assess the effect of weathering in the outcrop. The type and rate of weathering vary from one
region to another. In areas with high temperatures and high humidity, weathering produces
physical and chemical changes (disintegration and decomposition) to a considerable depth
from the ground surface. In dry areas, physical weathering dominates and rocks could
disintegrate by alternate heating and cooling, but still keep their general appearance. In more
humid regions where moisture exists, chemical weathering proceeds quite rapidly and many
of the rock minerals will decompose fully or partially towards their ultimate clayey form.
Figure 8.2 presents an illustration of the reduction in the degree of weathering with depth.
Generally, fresh rocks that can be used as sources of crushed stone are found at some depth
from the ground surface. On the other hand, soils and weathered rocks at the top part of an
exposure can be used as common fill and selected sub-grade. The material in the middle part
of the two extremes is often the sources of unbound sub-base and base courses.
However, exceptions exist to the observation and it is not uncommon to see highly weathered
soil profiles intercalated with relatively hard rocks at considerable depth. This is can happen
because of differential weathering due to compositional or textural differences, differential
weathering of contact zones associated with thermal effects within volcanic rocks, directional
weathering along permeable joints, faults, or contacts where weathering agents can penetrate
more deeply into the rock mass; differential weathering within a single rock unit due to
relatively high permeability, and differential weathering due to topographic effects.

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Generally, apart from geology and topography, weathering can be affected by both macro and
micro climatic features. Hence, any local variation in climate could have a major influence on
the final product of weathering. Mineralogical analyses can help a lot in this regard.
Table 8.12 presents a system for describing and classifying weathering grades in a quarry or
borrow site. As shown, the degree of weathering is divided into five categories that reflect
definable physical changes due to the chemical and physical processes. This table
summarizes general descriptions which are intended to cover ranges in bedrock conditions. It
is an extension of Table 4.8 given in Chapter 4 without the last category corresponding to
residual soils, which are normally considered as soil in the case of construction materials.
Weathering tables are generally applicable to all rock types. However, they are easier to use
with igneous and metamorphic rocks, especially in rocks that contain ferromagnesian
minerals. Weathering in many sedimentary rocks will not always conform to the criteria
shown in Table 8.12, and weathering categories may have to be modified for particular site
conditions. However, the basic classes and descriptors given in the table can be used. Sitespecific conditions, such as fracture, openness and filling should be described for each

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Table 8.12: Weathering Grades for Describing and Classifying Road Construction Materials


Fresh (unweathered)








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Chemical weathering
Body of rock
No discoloration, not oxidized.
Discoloration or oxidation is
limited to surface of, or short
distance from, fractures; some
feldspar crystals are dull.
Discoloration or oxidation
extends from fractures, usually
throughout; Fe-Mg minerals are
rusty, feldspar crystals are
Discoloration or oxidation
throughout; all feldspars and FeMg minerals are altered to clay to
some extent; or chemical
alteration produces in situ
disaggregation, see grain
boundary conditions.
Discoloured or oxidized
throughout, but resistant minerals
such as quartz may be unaltered;
all feldspars and Fe-Mg minerals
are completely altered to clay.

Fracture surfaces
No discoloration or

No change

Minor to complete
discoloration or
oxidation of most


All fracture surfaces

are discoloured or

Generally preserved

General characteristics
(strength, excavation, etc)
Hammer rings when crystalline rocks are
struck. Almost always excavation involves rock
except for naturally weak or weakly cemented
rocks such as siltstones or shales.
Hammer rings when crystalline rocks are
struck. Body of rock not weakened. With few
exceptions, such as siltstones or shales,
classified as rock excavation.
Hammer does not ring when rock is struck.
Body of rock is slightly weakened. Depending
on fracturing, usually considered as rock during
excavation except in naturally weak rocks such
as siltstone or shales.

All fracture surfaces

are discoloured or
oxidized, surfaces

Texture altered by

Dull sound when struck with hammer; can be

broken with moderate to heavy pressure or by
light hammer blow without reference to planes
of weakness such as incipient or hairline
fractures, rock is significantly weakened.
Usually easy for excavation.


Resembles a soil,
partial or complete
remnant rock
structure may be
preserved; leaching of
soluble minerals
usually complete.

Can be granulated by hand. Always easy for

excavation. Resistant minerals such as quartz
may be present as grains.

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Chapter 8
Construction Material Surveys

Local sources of rocks and soils

The types and distribution of rocks and soils in Ethiopia has been discussed in Chapter 2. It is
known that the oldest rocks in the country are metamorphic rocks of Precambrian age. They
are exposed in parts of Harar, Dire Dawa, Southern region, Welega, Gojam, and Tigray. An
accumulation of sedimentary rocks was formed farther north and east in Mesozoic, and much
of the Blue Nile basin and Tigray, and places in Dire Dawa and Harar are covered today by
limestone and sandstone. The Blue Nile in particular provides thick deposits of sandstone,
limestone, and gypsum intercalated with relatively soft units of mudstone, shale, and marl.
There was a widespread volcanic activity in the Tertiary period. This resulted in the
outpouring of vast quantities of basaltic lava flows known as the Trap Series over much of the
country, accompanied by the eruption of large amounts of ash and tuff. Most of the highlands
in the northwest, west, central and south-eastern part of the country are now covered by these
rocks. Cenozoic volcanics (basaltic lava flows, rhyolites, and ignimbrites intercalated with
pyroclastic deposits) and recent sediments are common in the rift valley.
Table 8.13 gives a summary of the location and distribution of rocks and soils, their
characteristics, problems, and performance as pavement materials. As shown in the table,
suitable materials exist in every region of the country. Normally, the geology of Ethiopia
indicates that, even in areas with thick soil cover, a relatively fresh rock must be encountered
at a certain depth as there is a gradual transition from one weathering state to the other. The
extraction of a suitable material for fill, selected sub-grade, sub-base, base and surface courses
is, therefore, a matter of understanding the geological history of the project site.

Sources of sand

Sand is needed during concrete and mortar production for bridge and drainage structures. Sand
may also be used as part of bituminous mixes, and may also be considered as an additive for
mechanical stabilization. The sand particles used for these purposes should be predominantly
angular in shape and be devoid of soft particles. Also, the material should be non-plastic in
nature. Although samples need to be checked by test pits, the use of aerial photos to identify
the location of sand deposits such as alluvial plains and dunes is often very successful. When
necessary, trenches up to 2m can be dug in sands very easily.
The construction industry in Ethiopia utilizes sand mainly from streambeds, which are
commonly derived from the weathering of quartzo-feldspathic acidic igneous rocks,
sedimentary rocks and alluvial deposits. Sand size grains of basalts and pyroclastic deposits
are also common in many river beds. The major sand supply for the construction works in and
around Addis Ababa is the Awash River basin. The alluvial deposits in other river basins and
in the Afar region can also be used as sources of sand for roads in the vicinity.

Sources of water

The needs for water during road construction must be considered in the design phase. Water is
added to soil to bring the water content to optimum moisture content. In areas where water is
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scarce, such as the Afar and Somali regions, additional search is to be planned as required.
Data from a review of topographic maps and the field reconnaissance can indicate if surface
water for construction is a crucial problem. Major water sources need to be sampled and
chemically analysed for the presence of chloride, sulphate, and organic content in order to
check their suitability for use in construction of pavement and concrete structures.
The Ethiopian Geological Survey has a collection of hydrogeological maps for different parts
of Ethiopia. There are also some private and state agencies which are responsible for water
resources studies in the country. Additional information can be obtained from these sources.
Of primary interest in hydrogeology is the ability of the various rock units to store and
transmit water and act as water-containing bodies (aquifers). Understanding geological
conditions is the cornerstone of any ground water evaluation as geology forms the physical
framework for the flow of groundwater. Primary and secondary porosity, storage properties,
and transmitting properties are largely a function of the geological materials present.
Similar to other site investigations, hydrogeological studies start with the interpretation of
aerial photographs. The study aims at determining the location of potential sites for drilling
water supply wells, and analysis of regional or local ground water flow systems. Methods
employed in such investigations include analysis of soil patterns that may reflect on
infiltration potential; drainage characteristics that suggest rock type and soil/rock permeability;
mapping and interpretation of joints and fractures; land form analysis; and observation of
vegetation patterns or types that provide inferences about the presence or preferential
movement of water or its chemical quality. Other related uses of aerial photographs in the
assessment of hydrogeology include the interpretation of channel geometry and the
identification of fluvial or lacustrine sediments and bedrock contacts which can be potential
sources of water.
When water is a great concern, it is advisable to contact the Geological Survey of Ethiopia or
the Regional Water Resources Bureau. All studies should be carried out by a hydro-geologist.

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Table 8.13: The Local Distribution and Usage of Materials for Road Construction
Material type and location

Material description

Typical problems

Metamorphic rocks
(present in southern and
western part of Ethiopia as
well as Dire Dawa, Harar,
Tigray regions and northern
part of Afar)

Massive to closely jointed strong

rocks, which may produce poorly
graded materials upon crushing
that comprise a significant
proportion of flaky and elongated

Poor particle shape; High proportion of flaky particles (>

40%) in road-bases will lead to poor particle interlock,
compaction difficulties and relatively low in situ dry densities
High mica content which can lead to difficulties with
compaction in the laboratory and on site. May also affect
liquid limit determination and unrealistically high PI that bear
little relationship to field performance.

Volcanic rocks (basalt,

rhyolite, trachyte, andesite,
dolerite, available in the
highlands of Ethiopia and
the rift valley)
Plutonic rocks (granite,
grano-diorite, gabbro
common in southern and
western Ethiopia, Dire
Dawa, Harar and Tigray)

Strong massive to closely jointed

strong rocks which can typically
be processed by crushing and
screening to produce desirable

Apparently sound strong rock aggregate, may deteriorate after

processing and in the road pavement although this has yet to
be reported in Ethiopia. This is especially true for aggregates
from basalt and gabbro.

When fresh, granitic rocks are

highly durable and strong. Often,
they contain widely spaced
tectonic joints.

Mica-rich granites are unsuitable for use as aggregates due to

excessive amounts of fine and platy particles in the crushed

Weak volcanic
agglomerates and breccias
(often associated with
basalts in the highlands)

May comprise poorly

consolidated, rippable deposits
that when excavated produce
variably graded clayey or silty
angular to sub angular gravel and
cobbles with some boulders.

Poor as dug grading. Frequently gap graded with a high

proportion of oversize material.
Near surface deposits may be weathered but often appear well
consolidated rock at depth.
Unsound stone content. Rippable materials could be weathered
and basaltic inclusions may have undergone secondary

Scoria or cinder cone

materials (available in the
main rift valley and
surrounding areas, also
common in the highlands)

Unconsolidated pyroclastic
materials which vary in colour
from red to dark brown, and in
size from sands to large gravels.

Characterized by a wide range of particle hardness and

relatively low particle strength, high porosity, and poor

Volcanic ashes and tuffs

(present throughout the rift
valley and in some places in
the highlands)

Weakly consolidated rock or soil

comprising silt and sand size
particles sometimes with gravel
size inclusions.

Low particle strength. Often associated with poor cementation

and low density.
Poor as dug" grading.
Aggregate can decompose rapidly to produce clays if used for

Little reported construction experience. May have characteristics

similar to highly weathered rocks.

Sandstones (common in the

Blue Nile basin and the
surrounding areas; also in
Tigray, Afar and Dire Dawa

Strong rock comprising mainly

sand size particles dominated by
quartz and feldspar and cemented
by iron oxide (the red color) or

High permeability and loss of strength on saturation

High PI in material when feldspars decay to kaolin.

Selected deposits can supply good road-base and sub-base

materials for both high and low volume roads in all climatic
conditions. Good aggregate durability if not associated with
argillaceous (clayey) materials.

Limestones (common in the

Blue Nile basin, Tigray Afar
and Dire Dawa areas)

Fractured and bedded but very

strong carbonate rock.

High PI carbonate fines, associated with high degree of

weathering along joints and fractures, and the presence of
intercalated marl.

Marls (commonly exist

Inherently weak calcite that

Poor as dug grading. Very low strength, inherently weak.

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Performance as pavement material

Materials with poor particle shape tend not to satisfy laboratory
CBR required for standard road-base materials. May be
satisfactory for low standard road-base in low volume roads.
Can be improved by mechanical stabilization (blending) with
well-shaped angular materials designed to improve particle
interlock, reduce voids and produce a smooth curve within the
desired grading envelope.
Densification of layers cannot occur easily due to the presence of
excess mica, particularly when using vibratory compaction
Provided that secondary mineralization is not significantly
developed, these hard rocks can produce good quality crushed
road-base, sub-base and sealing aggregate. Basic rocks like
basalt are considered to have better adhesion properties to
bitumen than acidic rocks such as rhyolite.
Quartz gravels remained after prolonged weathering in granite
and gneiss can make good quality road bases for asphalt concrete
roads, or base courses for unsealed, gravelly roads. Fresh
granitic rocks are commonly quarried for rock fill and road
Rarely suitable for use in pavement construction without some
processing to reduce oversize content and improve grading.
Cobble and boulder size fragments are typically strong and may
be difficult to treat with a grid roller. Screening alone is likely to
be wasteful and the use of quarry crushing and processing may
be required. High variability within the outcrop. Often interbedded with finer ash and tuff deposits, which may have high PI.
Used as sub-base materials in the rift valley and in Bahir Dar
area. A recent (2000) survey confirmed excellent performance
with little deterioration in 20 years. They can be used for roadbase in low volume roads, especially with the help of mechanical
stabilization and selection of appropriate compaction procedure.

Well graded (suitably processed) limestone typically provides

high soaked CBR strengths and can be a good source of roadbase aggregates. It may not be used as wearing course because it
often has poor resistance to polishing.
Selected low plasticity deposits may supply sub-grade materials

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Table 8.13: The Local Distribution and Usage of Materials for Road Construction
Material type and location
associated with limestone)

Material description
produce silty and clayey angular

Typical problems
All marls decompose quickly while in service to produce
plastic fines.

Argillaceous materials
(shale, siltstone, claystone,
and mudstone) found in
association with sandstones)

Fine grained weak rocks that may

be fissile, typically produce silty
to clayey angular or platy gravel.

Low particle strength, inherently weak rock types.

They will tend to slake after extraction and in the road to
produce plastic fines.

Some materials may be suitable for use as sub-base for low

volume roads in well drained and dry conditions. They will tend
to soften rapidly in wet areas. If well compacted, they can be
used as sub-grade materials.

Weathered rocks (present

throughout Ethiopia,
susceptible rocks include
basalt, ash, tuff, shale, marl,

Many partially weathered rock

types (whether igneous,
sedimentary or metamorphic)
may produce sandy gravel
Fracture spacing and or bedding
planes facilitate extraction of well
graded materials by ripping.

Variability within the outcrop, expect considerable and

sometimes unpredictable lateral and horizontal variation in
aggregate quality.
Presence of deleterious secondary minerals, low particle
Poor as dug grading.
High plasticity fines.

Some rippable partially weathered and fractured rock types can

supply road-base material for low volume roads. Aggregate
quality will vary according to degree of alteration (i.e. depth
below ground). Selection and mixing during extraction may be
critical to obtain a satisfactory material.
A wider range of weathered rock types will be suitable for
supply of sub-base and selected sub-grade aggregates.

Lateritic gravels (available

in western and northwestern
part of Ethiopia, abundant in
Assosa and the surrounding

Laterites are known to be the last

products of intensive weathering,
can be loose or strong.

Immature or relatively young laterites known as plinthite show

low particle strength, low compacted strength, lack of
mechanically stable grading and high plasticity, but can
undergo self-hardening and improve with time.

Satisfactorily used as sub-base materials in many countries

including the western part of Ethiopia. Mature laterites can also
be used for road-base. Trials successful on trunk roads carrying
traffic up to 1.0 x 106 esa. Crown height and provision of good
drainage essential component of performance.

Alluvial sand deposits (can

be found along major and
minor rivers)

Typically silty non plastic to low

plasticity sand deposits because
of the presence of some fines.

Alluvial clayey deposits

(present along major and
minor rivers)

Clayey (low to high PI).

Uniformity of particle size, poor performance in pavement

layers is associated with sand deposits comprising a high
proportion of single size particles
Poor particle shape, angular particles provide good interlock
and improved engineering properties.
Poor grading, these deposits often lack large size fraction,
materials with good engineering properties usually have a
considerable amount of coarse grained particle sizes.
Moderate to high PI values.

Performance as pavement material

for low volume sealed roads.

Well graded materials may be suitable for sub-base construction.

Unstabilised materials can be used for sub-grade construction for

very low volume sealed roads in low rainfall areas (< 500

Typically moderately to well

graded silty sand and rounded to
sub-angular gravel with a variable
proportion of cobbles and

Poor particle shape, rounded particles have poor interlocking

properties, hence as dug alluvial deposits tend to be difficult
to compact and produce low dry densities.
Alluvial gravels comprise a mix of rock types that reflect the
geology of the drainage catchment, and may contain a
significant proportion of unsound aggregate fractions.

Alluvial gravels typically require crushing and screening in order

to satisfy standard road-base specification requirements.
Crushed gravels for use in bituminous surfacing should be
investigated to determine their unsound stone content and
adhesion characteristics.
Use of the sodium sulphate or magnesium soundness test is
recommended in conjunction with standard strength testing
(Aggregate crushing value and Los Angeles Abrasion).

Colluvial deposits (fans,

scree deposits or talus, and
landslide debris, found near
mountains and hills)

Typically coarse angular sand and

gravel deposits with a variable
cobble and boulder content in a
matrix of silty sand or sandy clay.

Poor grading, usually gap graded with a high proportion of

oversize material, variability within the deposit is high.
High amount of PI fines, performance is significantly affected
by PI.

The character of these deposits is dependent on the nature of the

parent rocks and terrain.

Residual clayey sand


Clayey (low to medium PI) with

silt and sand.

Poor grading.
Poor particle shape.

Variably graded clayey sandy,

angular to sub-angular gravel.

Poor grading. Deposits tend to be variably graded within the

exploitable horizon and frequently gap graded. In situ
weathering can lead to mineralogical decay producing plastic
fines. High proportion of partially weathered particles can be
present that have not been subjected to sorting by water.

Alluvial gravel deposits

(river bed deposits, river
terrace deposits, exist along
major rivers in low land
areas such as Afar and
Somali regions)

Residual gravel deposits

(quartz gravels, weathered
granite gravels, other
residual gravelly soils)

Page 8-28

It is very difficult to use these materials because of their high

clay content, but sometimes they can be used as sub-grade
materials for low volume roads.
As dug residual gravel deposits will rarely be suitable for
standard road-base construction, due to inherent variability in
terms of grading, particle strength and plasticity.
However, this group of deposits has been widely used as a
source of sub-base and selected sub-grade materials.

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Site Investigation Manual 2013




Chapter 9
Construction Review

In Chapter 6, 7 and 8, the site investigation aspects required in the pre-construction phase
are discussed. The construction phase, the last stage of work required to complete a
roadway, is the emphasis of this chapter. Site investigation is an iterative process.
Although much of the exploration is supposed to be finished earlier in the investigation
phase for design, additional surveys may be required during construction to resolve
unforeseen problems. This is especially true in new road construction projects where
access is not present to transport site investigation equipment. Moreover, it will be difficult
to mobilize investigation tools twice or three times and may be economical to do some
exploration during construction.
The investigations during construction would be primarily composed of detailed
observation of excavation faces, pit, trenches and borings with sampling and testing
concentrated on specific features. They should be specifically planned to provide the
geotechnical engineer with information to characterize the sub-grade, determine the
availability and extent of construction materials, and estimate quantities of earthworks. If
there have been changes in vertical and horizontal alignments since the final design, it will
be necessary to undertake additional site investigation according to the new geometric
design. Construction reviews are also useful to evaluate the type of materials encountered
at road cuts and to refine earlier suggestions of cut-slope angles. In addition, the location of
river crossings, landslides, and problems soils should be checked and potential places of
disposal sites selected.

Subgrade conditions

Fundamental to any road construction is the preparation of the sub-grade to meet the
pavement design requirements. Normally, the pavement engineer prepares a design based
on the information obtained from the exploration programmes for design. However,
characterising the sub-grade completely in the design phase is often difficult, and
unexpected field conditions could appear later during construction. Additional
investigations of the sub-grade conditions are, therefore, necessary to determine whether or
not soil conditions encountered in construction correspond to those visualised in the
original design; and to ensure that the pavement design is carried through in the
construction phase.
Generally, sub-grade performance depends on three basic characteristics; strength,
moisture content and swelling, all of which can be checked by trial pits and trenches. In
some circumstances, such as soft deposits and deep sub-grade cuts, borings shall also be
considered. The plan for sub-grade investigation at the time of construction should be
related to the plan of exploration employed earlier during site characterization. Hence, the
previous locations of pits and borings, the different logs and field memos, and the site
investigation report for design should be thoroughly revised. The location of pits, trenches
and borings should be such that the information obtained will assist in filling any gap that
exists. The locations and sampling frequencies should also be at such intervals to allow the
identification of all soil types, the level of the water table and the depth to the bed-rock.

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Moreover, inherent to the construction of roads is the ability to inspect sub-grade

properties to enforce quality control measures before the overlying structures are placed.
This is especially true in the case of silty soils which can meet the moisture-density
requirements during design, but may fail at the time of construction. In such cases, the
DCP is a good indicator of sub-grade stability. As stated in the previous chapters, the DCP
can be driven to a depth of 1 m at each test location without excavating any soil layers. The
DCP can also be used to identify soft sub-grades in deep cut areas. In this case, extension
rods might be used to conduct the DCP test to a depth of 3 m in a soil boring drilled by a
hollow stem auger. In this way, the DCP allows frequent field testing of the sub-grade in a
reasonable time.
Proof rolling is another economical method of identifying unstable or unsuitable soils
during construction. It is not a direct test for evaluating sub-grade stability, as is the DCP,
but is a highly recommended field procedure for high volume roads which should be used
prior to additional in-situ tests or the excavation of additional pits and borings. Proof
rolling involves driving a loaded truck, or heavy construction equipment, repeatedly over
the sub-grade (especially in cut areas) and observing the surface deflections and the
development of rutting. It is intended to distress the soil to conditions anticipated during
construction. Since, proof rolling the entire section under construction may be time
consuming, it is often preferable to proof roll only areas of potential problem, identified by
the DCP investigation. Proof rolling is particularly useful in identifying silty soils and soft
deposits. Repeated passes of truck loads cause moisture to move up from high groundwater
tables, soften or remould the moisture-sensitive soils and cause excessive rutting.
Typically, proof rolling should be conducted as follows:
The engineer should observe the earthwork at all times during construction to
identify weak areas prior to proof rolling.
The sub-grade is prepared according to standard specifications, in which the subgrade shall meet the density requirement. If conditions change after sub-grade
preparation, due to rain or construction traffic before determining the type and
thickness of treatment, the sub-grade should be reworked.
The length of sub-grade, prepared for proof rolling, should be 150m to 300m at a
time. If the section is too large, the period between truck passes will be too long to
agitate the moisture sensitive soils, and may not exhibit excessive rutting.
The contractor should provide a fully loaded, tandem-axle truck, or loaded truck
similar to those anticipated during pavement construction.
The number of truck passes in proof rolling is dictated by field conditions.
Sometimes, for example, in cut or at-grade sections with high moisture soft
deposits, one or two passes might be adequate to cause several centimetres of
rutting, thereby indicating sub-grade instability. However, in fill sections where
density and moisture can be controlled for each layer, five to six passes may or may
not be adequate, depending on whether or not the underlying material is a
compacted fill or in-situ soil.
The number of passes should be until the sub-grade rutting exceeds 12mm. This is
particularly important in cut or at-grade sections with more than 75% silty material
or soft deposits.
During proof rolling, the engineer should observe the sub-grade performance at all
times. The last truck pass is usually performed at walking speed so that the engineer
may follow to observe the rebound deflections, and rutting and/or pumping of the
sub-grade. Immediately after the last truck pass, the inspector should test areas
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showing more than 30mm of rutting and areas of high rebound deflections
(pumping), with the DCP to determine the required treatment thickness. However,
the engineer should ensure that the finished sub-grade does not exhibit more than
12mm of rutting.
When rutting and deflection under heavy equipment indicates a soft sub-grade, test pits up
to a depth of 1.5m are excavated using a backhoe to further investigate the subsurface
condition. At least two test pits are needed in any failed sub-grade during proof rolling.
Excavate the test pits across the width of the sub-grade in the failed locations. Pick
locations where the deformations are the highest to evaluate the site.

Road cuts

During the project design phase, the cut slope design recommendations are prepared, with
slope inclinations required for stability, mitigation requirements if needed, and the
usability of excavated cut materials. Additional investigation might, however, be needed
during construction when there is a change in design requirements or route alignment.
Road cuts are places where geotechnical problems are often encountered. For this reason,
the existing natural and cut slopes in the vicinity of the project should be inspected
repeatedly to evaluate the performance of the new cuts. The inclination and height of
existing cut slopes should be measured and erosion or slope stability problems should be
examined. Observation of existing slopes should include vegetation, in particular those that
may indicate wet soil, as vegetative patterns may indicate subsurface drainage
characteristics. Assessment should also include an indication of whether tree roots may be
providing anchoring of the soil and if there are any existing trees near the top of the
proposed cut that may become a future hazard.
As with the design phase, additional exploration programmes during construction should
give consideration to the potential for use of the excavated material as a source for fill
elsewhere in the project. If the construction contract is set up with the assumption that the
cut material can be used as a source of fill material (or other uses in the project) it is
important to have adequate subsurface information to assess how much of the cut material
is useable for that purpose. A key to the establishment of exploration frequencies for
embankments is the potential for the subsurface conditions to impact the construction of
the cut, the construction contract in general, and the long-term performance of the finished
project. Any additional exploration programme at this time should ensure that costs and
time to complete the programme are reduced to an acceptable level.
If it is determined that slope stability analysis should be performed for some cuts,
laboratory strength testing on undisturbed samples may be required. Slope stability
analysis requires accurate information of soil stratigraphy and strength parameters,
including cohesion, friction angle, undrained shear strength, and unit weight for each layer.
Consideration should be given during stability analysis to adjusting strength parameters to
account for future changes in moisture content, particularly if field testing was performed
during dry months as it is possible that the moisture content of the soil will increase in the

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The key geotechnical issues for the performance of embankments include the stability and
settlement of the underlying soils and the impact to adjacent structures, such as buildings
and utilities. Therefore, additional site investigation may be needed during embankment
construction. This investigation should extend to at least two to three times the width of the
embankment on either side and to the top and bottom of adjacent slopes. Furthermore,
areas below the proposed embankments should be fully explored if any existing landslide
activity is suspected. Engineering parameters generally required for embankment design
Total stress and strength parameters;
Unit weight;
Compression indexes;
Coefficient of consolidation.
The type (pits, in situ tests, and boreholes) and amount of investigation is determined by
the extent of information needed. When existing data are insufficient, and pits and
boreholes are needed, every effort should be made to site them so that maximum
information is obtained where it is most relevant. All embankments over 3m in height,
embankments over soft soils, or those that could impact adjacent structures (bridge
abutments, buildings) will generally require deep pit excavations or borings. At critical
locations, a minimum of two exploration points in the transverse direction to define the
existing subsurface conditions for stability analyses should be obtained. More exploration
points to investigate the subsurface stratigraphy may be necessary for very large fills or
very erratic soil conditions.
In road upgrading projects, embankment widening will require careful consideration of
exploration locations. Pits or borings near the toe of the existing fill are needed to evaluate
the present condition of the underlying soils, particularly if the soils are fine-grained. In
addition, pits through the existing fill into the underlying consolidated soft soil, or to define
over-excavation, should be obtained to determine conditions below the existing fill. In
some cases, the stability of the existing embankment fill may be questionable because
raveling or slope failures have been observed. Embankments constructed of material that is
susceptible to weathering or instability may require additional pits through the core of the
embankment to sample and test the present condition of the existing fill.
Pits or borings are also needed near existing or planned structures that could be impacted
by new fill placement. Soil sampling and testing will be useful for evaluating the potential
settlement of the existing foundations of the structure as the new fill is placed.
The depth of test pits and borings will generally be determined by the expected soil
conditions and the depth of influence of the new embankment. Explorations will need to be
sufficiently deep to penetrate through problem soils such as loose sand, soft silt and clay,
and expansive soils, and at least 1.5m into competent soil conditions. In general, all
borings should be drilled to a minimum depth of twice the planned embankment height.
When groundwater is anticipated, water levels should be recorded in all test pits or borings.
Information regarding the time and date of the reading and any fluctuations that might be
seen should be included in field logs. For high volume roads that involve embankment
widening, piezometers are needed in borings located at or near the toe of an existing

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embankment, rather than in the fill itself. Exceptions are when the existing fill is along a
hillside or if seepage is present on the face of the embankment slope. The groundwater
levels should be monitored periodically to provide useful information regarding variation
in levels over time.
The location of the groundwater is important during stability and settlement analyses. A
high groundwater level results in lower effective stress in the soil affecting both the shear
strength and the consolidation behaviour under loading. If there is a potential for a
significant groundwater gradient beneath an embankment, or surface water levels are
significantly higher on one side of the embankment, the effect of reduced soil strength
caused by water seepage should be evaluated. Normally, more than one piezometer could
be needed to estimate the gradient. Also, seepage effects must be considered when an
embankment is placed on or near the top of a slope that has known or potential seepage
through it. A flow net may be used to estimate seepage velocity and forces in the soil and
to model pore pressures.

River crossings

Additional site investigations should be performed to provide the information needed for
structural foundations at river crossings. The extent of exploration during construction
should be based on any deviation of the subsurface conditions from which was considered
in the design phase, structure type, and any new project requirements. The exploration
programme should be designed to reveal the nature and types of soil deposits and rock
formations; the engineering properties of the soils and rocks; the potential for liquefaction;
and the groundwater conditions. It should also be sufficient to identify and delineate
unforeseen problematic subsurface conditions such as soft deposits and swelling and
collapsing soils. Boring logs should be prepared and cores retained and preserved for
future reference and testing.
In general, the additional investigations required during construction at river crossings
should have the objective of finalizing the following issues:
The anticipated structure type and magnitudes of settlement (both total and
differential) the structure can tolerate.
At bridge abutments, the approximate maximum elevation feasible for the top of
the foundation in consideration of the foundation depth.
For interior piers, the number of columns anticipated, and if there will be single
foundation elements for each column, or if one foundation element will support
multiple columns.
The depth of scour anticipated, if known.
Any known constraints that would affect the foundations in terms of type, location,
or size, or the assumptions which need to be made to determine the nominal
resistance of the foundation (utilities that must remain, construction staging needs,
excavation, shoring and false-work needs, other constructability issues).
Often, foundation recommendations made during design are subject to change depending
on the construction staging needs and other constructability issues that are discovered.
Hence, during construction, the geotechnical engineer will need to check the foundation
with regard to these changes and the structural design, with suggest modifications as
required. For this purpose, frequent communication and team work with the structural
engineer is required.
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For drilled shaft foundations, it is especially critical that the groundwater regime is well
defined at each foundation location. Piezometer data adequate to define the limits and
piezometric head in all unconfined, confined, and locally perched groundwater zones
should be obtained at each foundation location. Moreover, during excavation of the shaft
hole, a project geotechnical specialist is usually on-site to provide support in the following
Review of soil types with respect to the site conditions established during the
exploration programme for design. If the soil type differs, there is a need to
evaluate whether the capacity of the drilled shaft will be affected by the changed
site condition.
To observe conditions during shaft drilling. These conditions include the type of
equipment, progress of drilling, use of temporary and permanent casing, the depth
to groundwater and the height of slurry in the hole if slurries are being used to
maintain shaft-hole stability. Often, contract documents provide the contractor with
requirements for monitoring slurries and hole-stability; the geotechnical engineer
provides an independent confirmation that these requirements are being met.
To check the condition at the bottom of the drilled shaft and confirm that slough
accumulated at the bottom of the shaft has been removed to the extent practical.
For culverts, revising the investigation conducted for design could also be necessary during
construction. Where soil conditions are favourable, the data collected earlier is often
sufficient. Additional pits or even borings are needed only for box culverts. In this case, the
excavation should extend a minimum of 5m below the bottom of the culvert, or until 1.5m
of firm ground. In normal circumstances, a minimum of two investigation points spaced
adequately are needed to develop a subsurface profile for the entire culvert. Additional
borings should be provided for long culverts or in areas of erratic subsurface conditions.


Landslide areas should have been detected in the early stages of the design. If a landslide is
identified during construction, inclinometers and piezometers should be installed in normal
circumstances to accurately define the depth of movement and the role of groundwater.
Surveying stakes can also be used for this purpose. When monitored over several months,
this instrumentation can be very valuable in determining the behaviour of the landslide and
the relationship between periods of active slide movement and seasonal groundwater
Generally, in terrains where landslides are expected, the geotechnical engineer will often
be requested to provide support during construction. This support could be in the form of
selecting an appropriate remedial measure or confirm that the method suggested earlier
during design will not lead to additional failures or result in long-term maintenance
requirements. In this case, the field inspection should include the following activities:
Review the method of excavation and the sequence of work;
If groundwater is observed, analyse plans for collection and disposal of
groundwater. Assess whether any of these plans could result in further instabilities
of the landslide.
Confirm that the lines and grades for the excavation and backfill are being satisfied.
Check backfill material to confirm that they meet repair requirements, particularly
relative to any drainage collection layers or trenches.

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Oversee installation and monitoring of any instrumentation installed to monitor

movement during construction and beyond.
Review results of instrumentation immediately after installation to confirm that
performance is acceptable.
Retaining walls

If a slope failure is detected, then one of the methods to mitigate its effect on the road
would be to construct a retaining wall. The site investigation activity for the construction
of retaining walls should aim at establishing the suitability of the site for the type of
structure being considered, the overall stability and suitability of the foundation, and the
availability of suitable building stones for the wall. The design of the proposed works is
often helpful in identifying parameters that need to be obtained from the ground
investigation. The investigation should identify specific groundwater and surface drainage
conditions in the vicinity of the site and their likely response to heavy rain. In general, the
following are the general investigation requirements for retaining wall design and
Take a minimum of 2 pits per wall.
At retaining wall locations, pits should be taken at a maximum interval of 30m,
with a minimum of two pits that are dug as close to the wall alignment as possible,
and with locations alternating from in front of the wall to behind the wall.
One pit should be located near the expected highest portion of the wall.
For wall heights greater than 6m, use a maximum pit spacing of 15m.
Retaining structures with tiebacks or soil nails will need an additional row of pits or
shallow borings spaced at 30m to 60m, where the anchor load zone is anticipated.
Pits or borings should continue to depths where all unsuitable foundation materials
are penetrated, and the proposed stress increase due to the retaining wall will be
less than 10% of the original overburden pressure. Alternatively, boring may be
completed at a depth of 2/3 of the anticipated wall height or a minimum of 1.5m
into the bedrock.
Exploration depth should be great enough to fully penetrate soft, compressible soils
(peat, organic silt, soft fine grained soils) into competent material of suitable
bearing capacity (stiff to hard cohesive soil, compact dense cohesionless soil, or

Construction materials

The investigation for borrow and quarry materials during construction is aimed at
finalizing the options available within a road project. Often, the details of the original
exploration determine whether a site merits additional investigations. A common
construction request involves guidance on the suitability of borrow and quarry materials
for different parts of the pavement structure. Questions on material suitability require the
project geotechnical specialist to review how the material will be used for construction and
whether the proposed material meets engineering design requirements. In contrast to the
design phase, the requests during construction will need to be determined on a case-bycase basis.

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In general, a material source investigation during construction should provide the

following minimum information.
Expected quality of processed materials and procedures necessary to obtain that
The boundary limits of proven materials and limits of previously used areas.
Specific areas and elevation of non-usable materials.
Previous uses of material from the source.
Recommendations on uses and limitations for processed materials.
At a minimum, the quality of material reserves should be known during construction. The
structures of the hard rock are necessary to develop an approach for extraction (i.e. blasting
or mechanical excavation). The state of weathering or alteration also needs to be
established, as this may define the use of the materials. Weathered materials may be
designated for fill.
For quarry site investigations in large projects, wet rotary rock coring methods are used to
determine subsurface conditions and obtain samples for testing. Triple-tube core barrels are
commonly needed to maximize core recovery. For riprap sources, fracture mapping
includes careful measurement of the spacing of fractures to assess rock block sizes
produced by blasting. Every rock formation requires its own blasting method determined
by a complete discontinuity survey. Also, identification of the type and amount of joint
infilling is needed. Core samples are reviewed to test the quality of riprap or aggregates. If
assessment is made on the basis of existing quarry faces, the use of core or geophysical
techniques might be needed to verify that the nature of the rock does not change behind the
face or at depth.
The indicated quantity of material that is available in the potential material source should
also be further evaluated. The geologist or the engineer in charge uses the mode of
occurrence of the deposit in conjunction with test pits and borings to determine the surface
plane area and volume of usable materials. The quantity of material reported should be
confirmed as the amount of material estimated to be present at the site. Extrapolation
beneath the depth of test pits and borings should not be made for the calculation of
indicated quantities unless well supported by geological information. Other tasks to
consider include:
The surface drainage at the site, noting areas of ponding water, swamps, sloughs, or
streams. It is important to determine flooding possibilities or surface flow after
periods of heavy rainfall, and from artesian conditions.
The location of the groundwater table along with seasonal variations. Identify any
springs in the area that will affect the development of borrow or quarry sites, or if
production operations can impact the water source.
The degradation and wear characteristics of aggregate sources. The history of use
of the aggregate is especially important for this purpose.
An estimate of oversize material (greater than 254 mm) determined in percent by
volume is necessary. The estimate is given in a percent range such as 15% to 25%.
Also describe the largest size cobble or boulder observed during site investigation.
In some projects, pilot material production trials may be necessary to establish
requirements for production at the required quality and quantity. Materials extraction and
production trials should be well planned and supervised with samples taken from the end
products of all accepted and rejected deposits. Further laboratory investigations should be
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made on samples collected from all stages of extraction. This information can then be used
to review and determine optimum extraction and production procedures at the required
standards or specifications.
For each source, the site map developed during design should be updated or a new map
should be prepared showing the location of the source in relation to natural landmarks,
property lines, existing roads in the area, and the new alignment. The map should include a
plan view of the property with all test pits, trenches and borings (including identifying
numbers). In large projects, the map should be part of a report that provides detailed site
exploration, sampling and laboratory testing, along with the subsequent development of a
pit or quarry site.

Pavement condition survey

The purpose of pavement condition survey is to evaluate the functional and structural
aspects of the road right after construction or during rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Functional evaluations identify the capability of the pavement structure to provide a
comfortable and safe service. In a newly constructed road, the primary parameters
determined in functional evaluations are the riding quality and skid resistance. For
rehabilitation and reconstruction, this may include the evaluation of aspects such as
potholes, cracks, and deformations. Structural evaluations are needed to determine whether
the pavement will carry the traffic it has been designed for. During rehabilitation and
reconstruction, structural evaluation can also help in assessing the status and integrity of all
pavement layers and their structural capacity to carry the expected traffic over the
remainder of their life.
Functional evaluation is usually performed by visual inspection. Visual inspection requires
the rating of the degree and extent of the various distresses. Typical pavement conditions
evaluated visually include surface conditions (roughness), potholes, deformations (ruts),
cracks, edge-breaks, ravelling, bleeding (flushing), and patching. The roughness of a road
pavement is the major parameter used to determine of the functional conditions.
The structural aspect of a pavement can be evaluated using different ways. The most
common methods involve the following:
Probing the pavement (by DCP or any similar method), measure the strength
characteristics of each layer, and correlate this information to data on similar types
of pavement under similar physical conditions.
Measurement of the surface deflection and shape of the deflection bowl under
loading, and relate this information to empirical data on similar types of pavement
under similar physical conditions.
Excavation of trial pits, measure layer thickness and obtain laboratory data to
characterise the properties of the materials in the pavement and sub-grade. Apply
this information to current pavement design methods or relate the information to
empirical data on similar types of pavement under similar physical conditions

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Chapter 10
Reports and Checklists

Upon completion of the site investigation and laboratory testing programme, the data
should be compiled, evaluated and interpreted, and a report or reports should be prepared
for use in the design process. Interpretation of the site investigation information provides
essential inputs into the design and construction recommendations. Checklists are useful to
review the entire process of site investigation and ensure the inclusion of all necessary
information at each stage.


Two types of reports can be prepared at the end of the site investigation. These are the site
investigation report and the soils and materials report. A site investigation report is a
document used to communicate the findings, recommendations and the site conditions to
the road design and construction personnel. It contains all available information on the
characteristics of the sub-grade, road cuts and embankments, bridge foundation conditions,
and special problems such as landslides and expansive soils. The data and information on
construction materials, on the other hand, their engineering characteristics, local
distribution, amount and quality can be summarized in the soils and materials report.
10.2.1 The site investigation report
While the content and format may vary from project to project, all site investigation reports
should contain certain basic essential information including:
Summary of all subsurface exploration data, including subsurface soil profile,
exploration logs, laboratory or in situ test results, and groundwater information;
Interpretation and analysis of the subsurface data;
Specific engineering recommendations for design;
Discussion of problem conditions and possible solutions;
Recommendations on special geotechnical provisions.
The initial sections of the report describe the type of the road project, the regional location
and limits of the project site, and the purpose and scope of the site investigation
programme. A summary that highlights the methodologies used; the findings obtained;
problems encountered; and the suggested recommendations, may also be added.
The discussions in the main part of the document identify the types of investigation
methods used, the number, location and depths of borings, exploration pits and in situ tests,
the types and frequency of samples obtained, the types and number of laboratory tests
performed, the testing standards used, and any variations from conventional procedures.
The station-to station descriptions of the alignment divided on the basis of differences in
soil and rock conditions, terrain characteristics, and other factors, should be included in
this part. The analysis of data obtained from the investigation of specific problems, and the
subsurface profiles developed from the field, should also be given in this portion.

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The final sections of a report typically includes conclusions, recommendations, and

appendices which contain pit and boring logs, water level readings, data plots from each
in-situ test hole, summary tables and individual data sheets for all laboratory tests
performed, rock core photographs, and geologic mapping data sheets and summary plots.
Often, the site investigation report will also include copies of existing information such as
boring logs or laboratory test data from previous ground surveys at the project site.
Generally, the outline given in this section addresses the minimum requirements needed
for writing a site investigation report. Depending on the scope of investigation, it is
advisable to include additional topics to ensure the coverage of all available information.
General information
A report needs a specific title that can describe its contents and can be used for its
identification. Report titles should normally be short and concise. A brief summary of the
findings is needed in the first part of the report. This includes explaining the specific
recommendations and limitations that will result in deviations from standard road design
practices. The introductory part describes the project, including the project limits, and the
purpose and scope of site investigation. The project description consists of:
Project description: A detailed explanation of the project (including type of road,
roadway length, width, paved or unpaved, important design features, etc.), the
purpose of the investigation, dates of field exploration, and identification of
personnel and companies involved in the project should be presented. A list of
previous explorations or reports for the project and whether they have been
supplemented by the current investigation should also be explained. The
investigation techniques and exploration methods used (e.g. review of published
data, site reconnaissance and mapping, equipment types, method of subsurface
exploration, laboratory testing, analyses, etc.) should be described.
Location: The location of the project (including the beginning and ending stations,
centreline alignment, and station equations). A location map showing villages,
towns, and city (in urban areas), all cultural, environmental, and natural features,
and rivers and lakes should also be included. The maps will show existing roads,
major topographic and drainage features, materials site locations, and utilities and
buildings. If material sites are not near the alignment, separate sheets are
Climatic conditions: A description of climatic conditions of the project site and the
weather characteristics during site investigation is required. Describe climatic
conditions that will have an effect on the project design and construction. Note
seasonal conditions such as temperature extremes; heavy rain or fog that could limit
construction seasons; the ability to reduce the moisture content of construction
materials; and the effect traffic control. State the mean annual temperature, the
temperature extremes, the mean annual precipitation, and the heaviest rainfall
months. In some highland (Wurch) areas, a description on the characteristics of
freezing and thawing is also needed.
Topography and drainage: Provide a description of the landforms and drainage
characteristics through which the road will pass. Note topographic highs such as
hills and ridges that will require cuts. Also describe topographic lows such as
valleys, swales, marshes, and minor creeks that embankments will traverse. Discuss
the depth below or height above the profile grade. Measure and describe steepness

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of slopes along and perpendicular to the alignment. Describe slopes that will
receive side hill cuts or fills. Note drainage patterns including creeks, intermittent
streams, rivers, erosion patterns, and high water elevations. Report vegetation
types, sizes, and density. Include special notes of vegetation that indicates
subsurface conditions (such as the presence of shallow groundwater or leaning trees
that indicate ground movement).
Geological information: An explanation of the regional geologic setting of the
project area, geomorphic provinces and major characteristics such as depth of
weathered profile, bedrock formations, and rock types should be provided. Include
discussion on known or documented geologic hazards such as landslides,
earthquakes and flooding. Describe the geology of the project site by dividing the
road alignment into different sections or stations. Preparation of a geological or
geotechnical map in hillsides or mountainous terrain is helpful. Emphasize
properties or conditions of the soil and rock materials that will impact design or
construction of the project.

Findings for Field Explorations

This section of the site investigation report should start with an explanation of what was
accomplished during the field explorations. Problems encountered that may have design or
construction implications should be added. The report should contain an account of the
geotechnical conditions revealed by pits, borings or other exploratory methods. It must also
have a description of the outcrops of bedrocks and superficial deposits; evidence of current
or past landslides; groundwater conditions (e.g. springs and streams); wetland locations;
areas that may involve sub-excavation; stabilization or drainage measures; locations that
may need rock excavations including areas that require blasting; areas that will involve
extensive excavations or fills; and roadway conditions that may indicate sub-grade
problems. Generally, exploration findings can be presented in the following forms:
Station to station descriptions: The road alignment is divided into logical
intervals based on differences in soil and rock conditions, terrain differences, and
other factors. The description of these intervals includes all information noted from
visual inspections of the terrain conditions and factual engineering geological and
geotechnical information obtained during surface mapping and from test holes. The
discussion may also include carefully identified geotechnical interpretation of the
data. The interpretation is made to increase the usability and reliability of the
information inferred between observation points. Obviously, geologic interpolation
cannot provide certainty regarding subsurface conditions, but it is useful to define
assumptions for analytical purposes.
Horizontal plan: A plan showing the areal distribution and location of borings
along the centreline of the proposed alignment should be presented in a site
investigation report. Briefly describe the number and type of borings, trenches, and
test pits. The boundaries of all soil and rock units should be shown on the plan, and
properly designated by a geological name or other symbolic notation, which should
be explained in a legend. Include surface contours to indicate ground elevations.
Subsurface profile: A complete description of each soil and rock unit encountered
in pits and borings (including in-situ test results) should be used to prepare cross
sections to show subsurface conditions across the centreline. Subsurface profiles
and graphical boring logs are normally placed in appendices and may contain a
depth and elevation scale; indication of stratum change; description of material in

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each stratum; depth of bottom of boring; depth of boulders or cobbles; caving

depth; static and free water level observations; artesian water and height of rise; and
sampling type, depth and interval.
In-situ tests: Describe the in-situ tests performed with an explanation of why a
specific method was chosen. Where the in situ test results lend themselves to a
concise summary (i.e. general data in the form of result ranges) include the
summary in the main part of the report. Otherwise summarize as appropriate in an
Laboratory testing: Describe laboratory tests performed in the project by referring
to the standard methods used in the testing programme. Include modifications of
existing test methods or unpublished local practices in the Appendix. It is advisable
to provide the laboratory test results in an approved soils testing report form.
Instrumentation: Describe any instrumentation installed during the field
exploration. Indicate their locations on the plan view map or location drawing.
State why each was installed and present summaries of the data in an appendix. If a
monitoring programme must continue beyond the time of the site investigation,
provide a schedule and duration. Present and discuss relevant data from
instrumentation monitored during original construction or from previous
exploration programmes of relevance to the project.
Data analysis: This is performed in order to develop recommendations regarding
stability, settlement, any other problem. Use the geotechnical data and information
obtained from the various field investigations, the laboratory testing data, and
geologic interpretations of site conditions to determine and characterize the relevant
engineering properties of the rock and soil materials encountered at the project site.
Incorporate drawings related to the analysis that can create a clear understanding.
The results of data analysis alerts designers and contractors to potential problems,
and may provide the basis for the selection of the appropriate design solution. The
analysis is also helpful in assessing risks associated with different design options.
Design recommendations: Preliminary recommendations related to the design and
construction of the roadway including any remedial measures that may be
necessary to complete the project. If comparing different vertical or horizontal
alignments, list any concerns for each alignment and present a cost summary.
o Sub-grade characteristics: Prepare recommendations related to sub-grade
characteristics. If soft sub-grades are encountered, recommend practical
treatment options. Recommendations should be concise and directed to the
preferred alternative. Note the areal extent of treatment (by station and
width), and depth of required material excavation.
o Roadside conditions: Prepare recommendations related to the design of the
roadside that include any remedial measures necessary to complete the
project. Provide cut slope angles and suggest specific designs for road-cuts
and embankments including an assessment on stability and settlement, the
construction sequence, field controls and instrumentation, and any other
related issue affecting the project. Be specific regarding cut and fill slope
o Structural foundations: Consider all available site investigation
information, including previously performed explorations, in making
recommendations for types of structural foundations, treatment of the
foundation, allowable bearing, design of piles and their estimated length,
footing elevations, construction sequence, instrumentation, and any other

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Reports and Checklists

design factors affecting the project. Give the logs of all structural
foundation borings in the Appendix.
o Landslides: Present a list and description of alternatives considered for the
remediation of landslides observed on roadsides.
o Problem soils: Give the location of problem soils and provide economical
solutions to mitigate their short and long term effects on the road.
Present the following information in the Appendices of the site investigation report:
Boring Plan: Present a site plan showing all boring locations. The plan should have
a legend to identify all features drawn on it.
Boring Logs: Include boring logs in the report. Present colour pictures of
representative rock cores and soil samples along with log descriptions.
Graphical analyses: Any repeated graphical outputs such as gradation curves from
particle size analyses or stability analyses should be put in appendices.
Extended test results: Some long tables of laboratory results should be given in
appendices and linked to the analytical descriptions in the main part of the report.
Descriptions of methods or guidelines: Put extended description of methods and
guidelines used for laboratory testing, data analysis or recommendations.

Soil and materials report

The soils and materials report will generally contain information on the availability and
local distribution of construction materials. In this document, the number and location of
sites investigated and those selected for possible use, their characteristics, interpreted
quantity and quality of material should be reported. A note is also necessary on rejected
sites and the reasons for rejecting them. A description of laboratory tests performed,
including controlling standards, sampling methods and test procedures is necessary. There
should also be a map and photos which show the dimensional characteristics such as
thicknesses and extent of resources. Generally, the report should have the following
Location of existing or previously used quarries and pits in the project area;
Estimates of quality and quantities in existing sources;
Previously encountered problems with the above sources;
Climatic details; including rainfall, rainfall intensities and evaporation;
Project materials required in terms of quality and quantity;
Project constraints; eg economic, contractual, environmental or time-related;
Proposed road design standards;
Likely soils and aggregate testing requirements;
Likely sub-surface extent and nature of deposits;
As-dug properties of deposits;
Excavation limitations;
Likely processing requirements;
Access requirements;
Suitability for various road-building applications;
Sketch maps of each source;

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Cost of haulage from source to site on road;

Cost per cubic meter of extraction and processing;
Borehole or drill hole logs;
Trial pits or trench logs;
Typical cross sections based on the above to indicate volumes available;
Quality assured laboratory test results;
Comment on the field and laboratory data, which should highlight not only the
quality and quantities of the various materials but also the potential variability;
Clear definition of problems associated with non-standard materials;
Comment on suitability of stabilization, if required;
Likely socio-environmental impacts of resource development.

Checklists are charts or questions that are developed to aid engineers in the review of the
site investigation process. In this manual, a set of questions have been developed and
summarized in Table 10.1 so that they can be used to identify gaps during exploration. The
advantage of using these lists is to ensure that pertinent data are not forgotten or
overlooked; and to identify those items that need to be investigated further. Generally,
Table 10.1 can be used as it is or can be populated further by adding other questions
relevant to road projects. Upon completion of the questions, the engineer in charge of the
site investigation should summarize the negative responses and discuss with others to
decide what should be done next.

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Table 10.1: Site Investigation Checklist

Site investigation activities to check
1. Check if the scope and purpose of the investigation have been summarized
2. Verify if the location of the investigation has been described and a map is included
3. Confirm if the field explorations and laboratory tests are listed
4. Check if the following general information has been provided
Brief description of the project
Brief presentation of geological and topographical information
Brief presentation of boring and sampling methods
Summary of general soil, bedrock, and groundwater conditions, including a
generalized interpretation of findings
Statement of where original drawings and data may be inspected
Statement of where soil or rock samples may be inspected
Initials of personnel and dates they performed field reconnaissance,
subsurface exploration and preparation of the soil profile
5. Verify if all the roadway subsurface data have been presented in the form of a profile
along the centreline or baseline, and on cross sections where applicable
6. Check if the following information is included in the site investigation report
Test hole logs
Field test data
Laboratory test data
Photographs (if pertinent)
Plan and subsurface profile
7. Ensure whether the site investigation adequately characterize the soil and rock
8. For upgrading projects where the alignment has been shifted, check if additional
subsurface explorations have been conducted along the new route
Field boring log:
1. Location and depth of boring or excavation
2. Exploration identification number
3. Description of the project
4. Soil and bedrock symbols and descriptions
5. Sample types and depths
6. If cone penetration tests were made, include plots of cone resistance with depth
7. Groundwater levels measured
8. In situ test records
Subsurface profile:
1. Check if field explorations are located on a plan view
2. Ensure if explorations are plotted and correctly numbered on the profile at their true
elevation and location
3. Verify if cross-sections have been developed to show subsurface conditions
disclosed by a series of borings or pits across the centreline
Laboratory test data:
1. Soil classification tests such as moisture content, gradation, Atterberg limits,
performed on selected representative samples to support visual soil identification
2. Tests to confirm design values
3. Index tests of construction materials
4. Test results of the sub-grade
5. Test results of special problems

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Table 10.1: Site Investigation Checklist

Station-to-station descriptions for:
1. Types of slope materials along the alignment
2. The stability of these slopes in natural conditions
3. Slides, slumps, and faults noted along the alignment
4. Existing surface and subsurface drainage
5. Evidence of springs and excessively wet areas
Station-to-station recommendations for:
1. General soil cut and fill
2. Specific surface and subsurface drainage conditions
3. Excavation limits of unsuitable materials
4. Erosion protection measures for back slopes, side slopes, and ditches, including
riprap recommendations or special slope treatment.
5. Special usage of excavated soils
6. Locations of spoil areas
Potential sources of construction materials:
1. Have soil samples representative of all materials encountered during pit investigation
been submitted and tested?
2. Are laboratory quality test results included in the report?
3. For soil borrow sources, have possible difficulties been noted, such as above
optimum moisture content for clay-silt soils, waste due to high PI, boulders, etc.?
4. For aggregate sources, do the laboratory tests (such as Los Angeles abrasion, sodium
sulphate, degradation, absorption, reactive aggregate, etc.) indicate if suitable
materials can be obtained from the deposit using normal processing?
5. If the laboratory tests indicate that suitable material cannot be obtained from borrow
pits as they exist naturally according to the specification, were the different sources
rejected or are detailed recommendations provided for further processing or
controlled production?
6. Where high moisture content clay-silt soils must be used, are recommendations
provided on the need for aeration to allow the materials to dry out sufficiently to
meet compaction requirements?
7. Do the proven material site quantities satisfy the estimated project quantity needs?
8. Are there any environmental impacts associated with using the sources?
9. Have pit reclamation requirements been covered adequately?
10. Ensure if a material site sketch (plan and profile) has been provided for inclusion in
the report, which contains:
Proposed locations of quarries and borrow pits
Material site numbers
Expected amount or volume
Previously mined sites
North arrow and scale
Test hole or test pit logs, locations, numbers and date
Water table elevation and seasonal fluctuation
Depth of unsuitable overburden, which will have to be stripped
Suggested overburden disposal area
Existing or suggested access roads

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Chapter 11


Central Statistical Agency and Ethiopian Development Research Institute (2006).

Atlas of the Ethiopian Rural Economy. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,
Committee of State Road Authorities (CSRA) (1985). Guidelines for road construction
materials - TRH 14, Department of Transport, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.
Committee of State Road Authorities (CSRA) (1993). The investigation, design,
construction and maintenance of road cuttings - TRH 18. Department of Transport,
Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.
Emery S J (1985). Prediction of Moisture Content for use in Pavement Design. Doctoral
Thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Ethiopian Geological Survey (2006). Simplified Geological Map of Ethiopia, Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Road Authority (2002). Site Investigation Manual. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Federal Negarit Gazeta (2004) Labour Proclamation No. 377/2003. Federal Negarit
Gazeta of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Proclamation No. 377/2003, Page
2453, 10th Year No. 12, 26th February 2004, Addis Ababa.
Nata Tadesse, Shishay Tadios & Mekdes Tesfaye (2010). The Water Balance of May
Nugus Catchment, Tigray, N Ethiopia. Agricultural Engineering International: CIGR
Journal, Manuscript 1306, Volume XII.
South African Institute of Civil Engineers, Geotechnical Division (2010). Site
Investigation Code of Practice, 1 st Edition. South African Institute of Civil Engineers,
Mid-Rand, South Africa.
Thornthwaite, C W (1948). An approach towards a rational classification for climate.
Geological Review, Volume 38, No 1.
Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) Ltd (1999). Guidelines on the Selection and Use
of Construction Materials. Department for International Development (DFID), Report No.
PR/INT/203/00, R6898. London, UK.
Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) Ltd (2004). Dynamic Cone Penetrometer (DCP)
tests and analysis, Technical Information Note. Department for International Development
(DFID), Report No. PR/INT/277/04, R8157. London, UK.
US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (2002).
Evaluation of soil and rock properties, Geotechnical Engineering Circular No. 5. Report
No. FHWA-IF-02-034, Washington DC, USA
US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (2006),
Geotechnical aspects of pavements. Publication No. FHWA NHI-05-037, Washington DC,

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US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (2001). Manual

on Subsurface Investigations, National Highway Institute. Publication No. FHWA NHI-01031. Washington DC, USA.
US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (2006). Soil and
Foundations. Publication No. FHWA NHI-06-088. Washington DC, USA.
Weinert, H H (1980). The natural Road Construction Materials of Southern Africa.
Academia, Pretoria, South Africa.

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Appendix A
DCP Test


A1. Introduction
The Dynamic Cone Penetrometer (DCP) test is used as a rapid means of assessing the
sequence, thickness and in-situ bearing capacity of the unbound layers and underlying subgrade that comprise the pavement structure. Probably, the greatest benefit of the DCP
device lies in its ability to provide a continuous record of relative soil strengths with depth.
By plotting a graph of penetration index (PI) versus depth below the testing surface, a user
can observe a profile showing layer depths, thicknesses, and strength conditions. This can
be particularly helpful in cases where the original as-built design for a project were lost,
never created, or found to be inaccurate. The DCP's other strength lies in its small and
relatively lightweight design. The DCP is ideal for testing through core holes in existing
Data from a DCP test is processed to produce a penetration index (PI) which is simply the
distance the cone penetrates with each drop of the hammer. The PI is expressed in terms of
mm per blow, and can be plotted on a layer strength diagram, or directly correlated with
common pavement design parameters such as CBR.
DCP testing can be done during preliminary soil investigations for route selection or
design to quickly map areas with weak material and define uniform sections. For example
in an area where potentially collapsible soils are expected, running an initial test, and then
flooding the location with water and running another test, can allow to delineate these soils
produce based on a noticeable increase in the PI (less shear strength might indicate a
potentially collapsible or moisture sensitive soil).
One of the major applications of DCP testing has been in the structural evaluation of
existing pavements. During construction or later in the maintenance programme, The DCP
test is an ideal tool for monitoring all aspects of construction of a pavement sub-grade and
base or inspect their remaining strength. In new roads, it can be used to verify the level and
uniformity of compaction over a project. During rehabilitation and reconstruction, it is
useful to define problem areas that develop due to unavoidable soil conditions brought on
external factors.
A2. The DCP device
The most common DCP device consists of two 16 mm diameter rods, with the lower rod
containing an anvil, a replaceable 60 o cone having a maximum diameter of 20mm, and
depth markings every 1 mm. The upper rod contains an 8 kg hammer dropping through a
height of 575 mm, an end plug for connection to the lower rod, and a top grab handle
(Figure A-1). An optional depth residing device can be attached to eliminate the need to
measure penetration depth at ground level.
A3. Data collection
Normally, three people are needed to complete the test. One person stands on the stool and
holds the apparatus by the handle while the second person lifts the drop weight. The third
observes the readings and records them on the appropriate form. If only two persons are
available, one can drop the hammer and the other records the depth of penetration. It is
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extremely important to gain maximum height for each drop but care must be taken not to
strike the weight against the handle.

Figure A-1: Schematics of the DCP device.

During testing the operators should not put their hands near the Anvil to ensure that their
fingers are not trapped underneath the Hammer when it is dropped.
In order to avoid any potential damage to the underground utilities, it is essential to ensure
that there are no utilities beneath the test location before the test starts.
The readings are taken with each blow of the weight. If the penetration rate is less than 20
mm/blow, the frequency of readings may be decreased to the following:
One for every two blows with readings from 10-20 mm
One for every five blows with readings from 5-9 mm
One for every ten blows with readings from 2-4 mm.
Penetration depth less than 1 mm for 20 blows is considered as refusal.

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Appendix A
DCP Test

The ultimate depth of investigation is determined by the purpose and stage of investigation.
Normally, readings are taken up to 1.0m below the contact with the sub-grade. No test
should be less than 1.0m from ground surface.
Upon reaching the desired depth or refusal, the instrument is withdrawn with a jack. The
forked part of the modified jack is placed under the anvil during extraction. An alternative
method would be to strike the drop weight against the bottom of the handle, reversing the
entry procedure. But, this is usually time consuming and adds additional stress to the
threaded components, reducing instrument life.
The DCP is capable of penetrating through asphalt and base course materials. But, tests in
these materials cause additional wear on the instrument. Hence, an area on the asphalt large
enough to accommodate the base of the instrument is removed by coring and the base
course materials excavated to the sub-base or sub-grade
DCP testing results are expressed in terms of the penetration index (PI), which is defined is
the downward vertical movement of the DCP cone produced by one drop of the sliding
hammer (mm per blow). Stiffer or stronger soils require a higher number of blows or drops
of the hammer to achieve a given penetration.
All the pertinent location data, the number of blows and depth readings, and PI values are
recorded on the DCP Test form shown in Table A-1.
Test results are typically processed using a spreadsheet. Data for the first two columns
(blow number and depth of penetration) in Table A-1 are directly recorded in the field. The
third column is an average of the present and previous depth readings. By averaging the
readings, the strength of a soil layer between DCP readings is represented by a uniform PI
located at the midpoint of the layer. The fourth column is the PI, which is calculated by
dividing the difference in the present and previous DCP depth readings by the number of
hammer blows between these readings.
A4. Data analyses
Once the results are processed, a graph of penetration index (column 4) versus penetration
below the surface (column 3) in Table A-1 can be prepared. This graph will clearly show a
profile of layers with different strengths. Alternatively, a plot can be prepared by using the
number of blows (column 1) along the x-axis and the penetration reading (column 2 or 3)
along the y-axis. Depending on the pavement structure, this plot is divided into "best fit"
straight lines. The ratio between the change in penetration and the change in the number of
blows for each straight line is then computed and expressed as mm/blow or PI as shown in
Figure A-2.
To determine strength and understand material characteristics, the PI value can be
correlated with field CBR values. A number of correlations between DCP and field CBR
values have been developed in the past few decades and used in many places with varied
successes. Some of these correlations are given in Figure A-3.

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Table A-1 DCP data recording form (sample only)

Project Name:


Project No.:


Chainage (Km):



Layers removed

Position from center line: Right or Left Northing:

Offset (m):

Surface type:

Lane number:

Surface condition:


Surface thickness:

Zero error:

Test date:

Tested by:

Approved by:

Number of blows

Depth (mm)

Mid-range depth (mm) PI (mm/blow)


















Figure A-2: An illustration of the DCP test result interpretation

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DCP Test

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A5. Frequency of testing

Sampling frequency will depend on the objective of the testing. Table A-2 gives
recommended minimum distances between the DCP tests.

Table A-2 Recommended DCP test spacing


Minimum test spacing

Routine testing for the rehabilitation

500 m or less

Upgrading of gravel roads to sealed roads

500 m or less

Areas of distress and spot improvement

100 m or at each distressed location

Pavement condition survey (new road)

50 m or increase frequency as needed

Delineating uniform sections during design

Minimum 3 per homogenous section

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Figure A-3. Correlations between DCP results and field CBR values
A6. Repeatability
The DCP has a relatively high degree of repeatability, with a coefficient of variation (CV)
in the order of 40%. Should the rod leave its vertical alignment, no attempt should be made
to correct this, as contact between the bottom rod and the sides of the hole leads to
erroneous results. It is recommended that if the rod is deflected for various reasons, a
second test in the same vicinity should be completed.
A7. Sources of error
When used on base course material, the DCP may produce high and sometimes misleading
results. This is because the type, size and compaction of the granular particles affect the

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Appendix A
DCP Test

penetration. Generally, while the DCP can be driven through asphalt and base course, it is
recommended that the results from these materials should be supported by data from other
methods of investigation. It should also be noted that the results can easily become
unrealistic if the DCP encountered a rock or debris during a test (one or two points with
near zero penetration index).

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Appendix B
Systems of Rock & Discontinuity Description

Site Investigation Manual 2013


Table B-1 Rock material description
Descriptions should follow the "color, grain size, texture, weathering, strength, type" form. Example: Dark
bluish grey, fine-grained, crystalline, slightly weathered, moderately strong basalt.

Grain size


Retained on
sieve size

soil grade
Coarse gravels,
cobbles, boulders

60 mm
2 - 60 mm
No. 8
Yellowish Yellow Medium 60 - 2 mm
No. 200
Brownish Brown
2 - 60
Olive Very fine
Greenish Green
White Note: grains > 60 are visible to the naked eye.









Rock strength

compressive strength

Field description


> 250

Specimen can only be chipped with a geological hammer.


100 - 250

Strong rock


50 - 100

Medium strong


25 - 50

Weak rock


5 - 25

Very weak rock




0.25 - 1


> 0.50
0.25 - 0.50



0.10 - 0.25

Firm clay


0.05 - 0.10

Soft clay
Very soft clay


0.025 - 0.05
< 0.025

strong rock
Very strong

weak rock
Hard clay
Very stiff clay

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Specimen requires many blows of a geological hammer

to fracture it.
Specimen requires more than one blow of geological
hammer to fracture it.
Cannot be scraped or peeled with a pocket knife,
specimen can be fractured with single firm blow of
geological hammer.
Can be peeled by a pocket knife with difficulty, shallow
indentations made by firm blow with point of geological
Crumbles under firm blows with point of geological
hammer, can be peeled by a pocket knife.
Indented by thumbnail.
Indented with difficulty by thumbnail.
Readily indented by thumbnail.
Readily indented by thumb but penetrated only with great
Can be penetrated several meters by thumb with
moderate effort.
Easily penetrated several meters by thumb.
Easily penetrated several meters by fist.

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Systems of Rock & Discontinuity Description

Site Investigation Manual 2013

Table B-2 Discontinuity description in a rock mass

Discontinuity description should include type, number of sets, location, orientation (dip/dip direction),
fracture spacing, separation of fracture surfaces, infilling, persistence (continuous length) and surface
roughness and shape. Example: "Columnar jointed with vertical columns and one set of horizontal
joints, spacing of vertical joints is very wide, spacing of horizontal joints is wide, joints lengths are 3 to
5 m vertically and 0.5 to 1 m horizontally; joint aperture is open and the fracture infilling is a very soft
clay. The vertical columnar joints are smooth, while the horizontal joints are very rough".


Cleavage plane
Bedding plane
Schistocity plane
Weakness zone
Tension crack


Extremely wide


Very low

<1 m

Very wide



1 - 3m


3 - 10m


10 - 20 m

Very high

> 20m

Very close

Dip, dip
direction and
600 - 2 m
trend of
200 - 600 mm lineation
60 - 200 mm expressed as
20 - 60 mm

Extremely close

< 20 mm

Block Size


discontinuity spacing
in blocky rock
Very wide to
extremely wide


Block size


> 8 m3


0.2 - 8 m3



0.008 - 0.2 m3



0.0002 - 0.008 m3



< 0.0002 m3

Less than close




< 0.1 mm
0.1 - 0.25 mm
0.25 - 0.5 mm
0.5 - 0.25 mm
2.5 - 10 mm
> 10 mm
1 - 10 cm
10 - 100 cm

Very tight
Partly open
Moderately wide
Very wide
Extremely wide


Page B-2






Shiny smooth and slippery in all directions

Polished in one direction and showing
evidence of significant movement
Smooth to the touch
Asperities on the fracture surfaces are visible
Slightly rough
and can be distinctly felt
Asperities are clearly visible and fracture
Medium rough
surface feels abrasive
Large angular asperities can be seen and
distinctly felt
Very rough Highly irregular jagged surfaces
Irregular Defined ridges Supplemental - used with above terms
Small steps Supplemental used with above terms


4 - 10
10 - 12
12 - 16
16 - 20
> 20
JRC = Joint roughness

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Appendix C
Summary of Geotechnical Needs and Testing Considerations

Site Investigation Manual 2013


Table C-1 Summary of geotechnical information needs and testing considerations for pavement design related issues

Cut slopes

Fill slopes


Engineering needs
Internal stability
External stability
Bottom heave
Lateral earth pressure
Pore pressures behind
Retaining walls
Down-drag on wall
Internal stability
External stability
Horizontal deformation
Lateral earth pressures
Bearing capacity
Pore pressures behind
Borrow source
Bearing capacity
Settlement (magnitude
& rate)
Shrink/swell of
foundation soils (natural
soils or embankment fill)
Chemical compatibility

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Required information

Subsurface soil profile (soil, ground water, rock)

Shear strength of soil
Shrink/swell properties
Horizontal earth pressure coefficients
Interface shear strength (soil and reinforcement)
Hydraulic conductivity
Geologic mapping including orientation
Characteristics of rock discontinuities

Subsurface profile (soil, ground water, rock)

Horizontal earth pressure coefficients
Interface shear strengths foundation soil/wall fill shear
Compressibility parameters (including consolidation
shrink/swell potential, and elastic modulus)
Chemical composition of fill/ foundation soils
Hydraulic conductivity
Time-rate consolidation parameters
Subsurface profile (soil, groundwater, rock)
Shear strength parameters
Compressibility parameters (including consolidation,
shrink/swell potential, and elastic modulus)
Stress history (present and past vertical effective
Depth of seasonal moisture change

Field tests
Test cut to evaluate
SPT, CPT and DCP tests
Vane shear
Pullout tests (anchors,
Geophysical testing

SPT, CPT, DCP tests

Vane shear
Geotechnical monitoring
Test fill
Nuclear density
Pullout tests for
supported fills
Geophysical testing

Vane shear test

SPT (granular soils),
CPT, dilatometer
Rock coring (RQD)
Nuclear density
Plate load testing
Geophysical testing

Laboratory tests

Triaxial tests
Direct shear
Grain size distribution
Atterberg limits
Hydraulic conductivity
Moisture content
Unit weight
Slake durability
Rock uniaxial compression test
Intact rock modulus
Point load strength test
1-D Oedometer
Triaxial tests
Direct shear tests
Grain size distribution
Atterberg limits
pH, chemical tests
Moisture content
Organic content
Moisture-density relationships
Hydraulic conductivity
Unit weight
1-D Oedometer tests
Direct shear tests
Triaxial tests
Grain size distribution
Atterberg limits
Moisture content
Unit weight

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Appendix C
Summary of Geotechnical Needs and Testing Considerations

Site Investigation Manual 2013

Table C-1 Summary of geotechnical information needs and testing considerations for pavement design related issues

Engineering needs
of soil and concrete
Frost heave
Extreme loading

Driven pile

Drilled shaft

Pile end-bearing
Pile skin friction
Down-drag on pile
Lateral earth pressures
Presence of boulders/
very hard layers
Vibration/heave damage
to nearby structures
Extreme loading

Page C-2

Shaft end bearing

Shaft skin friction
Down-drag on shaft
Quality of rock socket
Lateral earth pressures
Settlement (magnitude
& rate)
Groundwater seepage/
Presence of boulders or
very hard layers
Extreme loading

Required information

Field tests

Unit weights
Geologic mapping

Subsurface profile
Shear strength parameters
Horizontal earth pressure coefficients
Interface friction parameters (soil and pile)
Compressibility parameters
Chemical composition of soil/rock
Unit weights presence of shrink/swell soils (limits skin
Geologic mapping including orientation and
characteristics of rock discontinuities

SPT, CPT, dilatometer

Pile load test
Vane shear test
Rock coring (RQD)
Geophysical testing

Subsurface profile (soil, ground water, rock)

Shear strength parameters
Interface shear strength friction parameters (soil and
Compressibility parameters
Horizontal earth pressure coefficients
Chemical composition of soil/rock
Unit weights
Permeability of water-bearing soils
Presence of artesian conditions
Presence of shrink/swell soils (limits skin friction)
Geologic mapping including orientation and
characteristics of rock discontinuities
Degradation of soft rock

Technique shaft
Shaft load test
Vane shear test
SPT, dilatometer, CPT
Rock coring (RQD)
Geophysical testing

Laboratory tests

Organic content
Collapse/swell potential tests
Rock uniaxial compression test
Intact rock modulus
Triaxial tests
Interface friction tests
Grain size distribution
1-D Oedometer tests
pH, resistivity tests
Atterberg Limits
Organic content
Moisture content
Unit weight
Collapse/swell potential tests
Slake durability
Rock uniaxial compression test
Intact rock modulus
Point load strength test
1-D Oedometer
Triaxial tests
Grain size distribution interface
friction tests
pH, resistivity tests
Permeability tests
Atterberg Limits
Moisture content
Unit weight
Organic content
Collapse/swell potential tests
Rock uniaxial compression test
Intact rock modulus
Point load strength test
Slake durability

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Appendix D
Common Soil Laboratory Tests

Site Investigation Manual 2013


Table D-1 Soil laboratory tests commonly used in pavement design


Use in pavement design

Moisture content


The moisture content expresses the amount of water present in a

quantity of soil.

Density is the total weight divided by total volume for a soil


Specific gravity

The specific gravity of soil solids is the ratio of the weight of a

given volume of soil solids at a given temperature to the weight
of an equal volume of distilled water at that temperature.


Compaction characteristics are expressed as the equivalent dry

unit weight versus moisture content relationship for a soil at a
given compaction energy level. Of particular interest are the
maximum equivalent dry unit weight and corresponding optimum
moisture content at a given compaction energy level.


The grain size distribution is the percentage of soil finer than a

given size versus grain size.

Calculation of soil total unit weight, void ratio,

and other volumetric properties,
Correlations with soil behavior, other soil
Calculation of in-situ stresses,
Correlations with soil behavior, other soil
Compaction control.
Calculation of soil unit weight, void ratio, and
other volumetric properties,
Analysis of hydrometer test for particle
distribution of fine-grained soils.
In conjunction with other tests (e.g., resilient
modulus), determines influence of soil density
on engineering properties,
Field QC/QA for compaction of natural subgrade, placed sub-base and base layers, and
embankment fills.
Soil classification,
Correlations with other engineering properties.

AASHTO T 100 or
ASTM D 854

D 698 (Standard Proctor)
AASHTO T 180 or
ASTM D 1557 (Modified


Plasticity describes the response of a soil to changes in moisture

content quantified by Atterberg limits.

Soil classification,
Correlations with other engineering properties.


Swelling is a large change in soil volume induced by changes in

moisture content.

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Swelling sub-grade soils can have a seriously

detrimental effect on pavement performance.

AASHTO T 265 or
ASTM D 2216
(conventional oven)
ASTM D 4643
ASTM D2922 (Nuclear
ASTM D2922 (Nuclear
ASTM D1556 (Sand

D 422
D 4318 (liquid limit)
D 4318 (plastic limit)
D 427 (shrinkage limit)
AASHTO T 258 or
ASTM D 4546

Page D-1

Appendix D
Common Soil Laboratory Tests

Site Investigation Manual 2013

Table D-1 Soil laboratory tests commonly used in pavement design




Use in pavement design

Swelling soils must be identified so that they can
be either removed, stabilized, or accounted for.


Collapsible soils exhibit large decreases in strength at moisture

contents approaching saturation, resulting in a collapse of the soil
skeleton and large decreases in soil volume.


The California Bearing Ratio or CBR is an indirect measure of

soil strength based on resistance to penetration.


The resilient modulus (Mr) is the elastic unloading modulus after

many cycles of cyclic loading. In-situ resilient modulus values
can be estimated from back-calculation of falling weight
deflectometer (FWD) test results or correlations with DCP values

Page D-2

Collapsible sub-grade soils can have a seriously

detrimental effect on pavement performance.

Direct input to some empirical pavement design

Correlations with resilient modulus and other
engineering properties
Characterization of sub-grade stiffness for
flexible and rigid pavements,
Determination of structural layer coefficients in
flexible pavements.

ASTM D 5333

AASTHO T 193 or
ASTM D 1883

AASHTO 1986/1993

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Appendix D
Common Soil Laboratory Tests

Site Investigation Manual 2013

Table D-2 The AASHTO or ASTM designation of common soil laboratory tests
Test Designation
Test Category

Index properties



Name of Test
Practice for Description and Identification of Soils
(Visual or Manual Procedure)
Test Method for Determination of Water (Moisture)
Content of Soil by Direct Heating

Organic content


D 2488

T 265

D 2216

Test Method for Specific Gravity of Soils

T 100


Method for Particle-Size Analysis of Soils

T 88

D 422

M 145

D 2487
D 3282

D 1140

T 89
T 90

D 4318

T 99

D 698

T 180

D 1557

T 208

D 2166

T 296

D 2850

T 297

D 4767

T 236

D 3080

D 1883

T 294

T 216

D 2435

T 258

D 4546

D 5333

T 215

D 2434

D 4972

Test Method for Sulfate Content

T 290

D 4230

Test Method for Chloride Content

Test Methods for Moisture, Ash, and Organic Matter of
Peat and Other Organic Soils

T 291

D 512

T 194

D 2974

Test Method for Classification of Soils for Engineering

Test Method for Amount of Material in Soils Finer than
the No. 200 (0.075 mm) Sieve
Test Method for Liquid Limit, Plastic Limit, and
Plasticity Index of Soils
Test Method for Laboratory Compaction of Soil Using
Standard Effort (2.5 kg Hammer for 300 mm height)
Test Method for Laboratory Compaction of Soil Using
Modified Effort (4.5kg Hammer for 450 mm height)
Test Method for Unconfined Compressive Strength of
Cohesive Soil
Test Method for Unconsolidated, Undrained Compressive
Strength of Cohesive Soils in Triaxial Compression
Test Method for Consolidated, Undrained Compressive
Strength of Cohesive Soils in Triaxial Compression
Method for Direct Shear Test of Soils under Consolidated
Drained Conditions
Test Method for CBR (California Bearing Ratio) of
Laboratory-Compacted Soils
Test Method for Resilient Modulus of Soils

Swelling, Collapse


Test Method for One-Dimensional Consolidation

Properties of Soils
Test Methods for One-Dimensional Swell or Settlement
Potential of Cohesive Soils
Test Method for Measurement of Collapse Potential of
Test Method for Permeability of Granular Soils (Constant
Test Method for pH of Soils

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Page D-3