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Soil slope instability concerning highway infrastructure is an ongoing problem in Iowa, as slope failures endanger public safety and continue to result in costly repair work. While in the past extensive research has been conducted on slope stability investigations and analysis, this current research study consists of field investigations addressing both the characterization and reinforcement of such slope failures. While Volume I summarizes the research methods and findings of this study, Volume II provides procedural details for incorporating an infrequently-used testing technique, borehole shear tests, into practice.

Fifteen slopes along Iowa highways were investigated, including thirteen slides (failed slopes), one unfailed slope, and one proposed embankment slope (the Sugar Creek Project). The slopes are mainly comprised of either clay shale or glacial till, and are generally gentle and of small scale, with slope angle ranging from 11º to 23º and height ranging from 6 to 23 m. Extensive field investigations and laboratory tests were performed for each slope. Field investigations included survey of slope geometry, borehole drilling, soil sampling, in-situ Borehole Shear Testing (BST) and ground water table measurement. Laboratory investigations mainly comprised of ring shear tests, soil basic property tests (grain size analysis and Atterberg limits test), mineralogy analyses, soil classifications, and natural water contents and density measurements on the representative soil samples from each slope. Extensive direct shear tests and a few triaxial compression tests and unconfined compression tests were also performed on undisturbed soil samples for the Sugar Creek Project. Based on the results of field and lab investigations, slope stability analysis was performed on each of the slopes to determine the possible factors resulting in the slope failures or to evaluate the potential slope instabilities using limit equilibrium methods. Deterministic slope analyses were performed for all the slopes. Probabilistic slope analysis and sensitivity study were also performed for the slope of the Sugar Creek Project.

Results indicate that while the in-situ test rapidly provides effective shear strength parameters of soils, some training may be required for effective and appropriate use of the BST. Also, it is primarily intended to test cohesive soils and can produce erroneous results in gravelly soils. Additionally, the quality of boreholes affects test results, and disturbance to borehole walls should be minimized before test performance. A final limitation of widespread borehole shear testing may be its limited availability, as only about four to six test devices are currently being used in Iowa. Based on the data gathered in the field testing, reinforcement investigations are continued in Volume III.

Report Number

IHRB Project TR-489

Granting Agencies

Iowa Highway Research Board, Iowa Department of Transportation



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