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Ground Improvement (2007) 11, No.

4, 219–228 219

Ground improvement solutions for motorway

widening schemes and new highway embankment
construction over soft ground
C. J. Serridge* and O. Synacy
*Pennine Vibropiling Limited, Bacup, Lancashire, UK
Formerly Pennine Vibropiling limited, Bacup, Lancashire, UK

Over recent years both motorway/highway widening and Au cours des dernières années, les projets d’élargissement
new highway construction schemes have become increas- des grands axes routiers et de construction de nouveaux
ingly fast track and complex. As such it is not always grands axes sont devenus de plus en plus «urgents» et
possible to permit sufficient time within the construction toujours plus complexes. En conséquence, il n’est pas
programme to allow settlement to occur for new embank- toujours possible de disposer de délais suffisants, dans le
ments, particularly over soft ground, without some form of programme de construction, pour permettre le tassement
ground improvement. Some important steps in achieving de nouveaux talus, en particulier sur des sols boulants,
successful ground improvement implementation are: ade- sans une certaine bonification du sol. Parmi les mesures
quate geotechnical site investigation; an appropriate de- importantes permettant de réaliser un renforcement réussi
sign and review process; consideration of the interfacing du sol, on indiquera les suivantes: recherches géotechni-
of different ground improvement techniques; preliminary ques adéquates sur le site; méthode appropriée d’étude et
trials; monitoring, testing and quality control. Dependent de révision; examen de l’interface entre différentes techni-
upon the soil profile and geometry, this can be achieved in ques de bonification du sol; essais préliminaires; contrôles,
critical zones using a combination of ground improvement essais et contrôle de la qualité. En fonction du profil et de
techniques such as vibro concrete columns (VCCs), vibro la géométrie du sol, ceci peut être réalisé, dans des zones
stone columns (VSCs) and vertical band drains (VBDs), to critiques, avec une combinaison de techniques de bonifica-
control settlements and also smooth out the settlement tion du sol, comme les colonnes vibrobéton (VCC), les
profile on the approach to rigid (piled) bridge abutments colonne de vibro-pierre (VSC) et les drains à bande
to ensure acceptable vehicle ride quality and reduce verticale (VBD) pour suivre l’affaissement et réduire les
maintenance. These aspects are discussed, based upon profils d’affaissement à proximité de la culée de ponts
ground improvement experiences on recent motorway rigides (sur piles) afin d’assurer la qualité acceptable de la
widening and new highway construction schemes over circulation automobile et la réduction de l’entretien. Ces
soft ground in the UK. aspects sont discutés sur la base des expériences de
bonification des sols réalisées récemment dans le cadre de
l’élargissement d’autoroutes et de projets de construction
Keywords : embankments; ground improvement; site de nouveaux grands axes routiers sur des terrains boulants,
investigation; soft ground au Royaume-Uni.

Introduction ment(s)), is a challenge for the geotechnical engineer who is

exploring cost-effective ground improvement solutions, and
Over recent years, both motorway/highway widening (Fig. whose tasks are to ensure a smooth settlement profile and
1) and new highway embankment construction schemes vehicle ride quality and to reduce maintenance. Similarly,
have become increasingly fast track and complex within the the engineering challenge also exists at the approach to
UK, with many phases of traffic management. Consequently, drainage culverts crossing a highway.
it is not always possible to permit sufficient time within the Drawing upon recent experiences on two highway em-
construction programme to allow settlement to occur for bankment projects in the UK—the M60 orbital motorway
new embankments, particularly over soft/weak ground, widening scheme (junctions 5–8), around south Manchester
without some form of ground improvement. Fast-track and a new relief road construction in Kings Lynn, Norfolk,
construction programmes hence require an innovative and where such an approach has been required—the following
flexible (design) approach. For highway schemes, the ap- key aspects, all of which form important steps in achieving
proach to bridges (or the transition between rigid bridge successful ground improvement implementation (Fig. 2) are
abutments and the consolidating soil behind the abut- discussed:

(GI 6268) Paper received 22 February 2006; last revised 8 August (a) geotechnical site investigation
2006; accepted 26 January 2007 (b) the design process and review

www.groundimprovement.com 1751-7621 (Online) 1365-781X (Print) # 2007 Thomas Telford Ltd

Ground improvement solutions for motorway widening schemes

model. Ground improvement design requires a knowledge

of the ground conditions, particularly the likely geometry of
the ground, its geotechnical properties, together with esti-
mates of how they might vary (including the anticipated
ground response to the particular or intended ground
improvement technique) and also ground water conditions.
Additional site investigation (boreholes, field and laboratory
testing), should be planned to test the pre-construction
(geological/geotechnical) ground model to provide further
information on perceived hazards or risks and also the
geotechnical parameters required for more detailed analysis.
Further information relating to these issues is given in the
literature (e.g. Clayton, 2001).
The most common types of ground-related problems
encountered during ground improvement relate to soil strata
boundaries (i.e. geometry not as anticipated), and the
Fig. 1. M60 orbital motorway widening scheme (junction 7), Mersey Valley, geotechnical properties/characterisation of the soil profile.
south Manchester, UK
While it is recognised that only in cases where there are
significant geotechnical risks or where benefits can be
obtained from adoption of a sophisticated geotechnical
Site investigation (SI) Preliminary trials Design changes approach will it be advisable to carry out very detailed
Performance criteria Trial interpretation Dealing with unknown ground investigation, any likely shortcomings of this must
be recognised by the designer(s) (Clayton, 2001). Addition-
Additional SI Design principles Monitoring
ally, it is important to recognise that the geotechnical site
Preliminary design Design and interfacing Testing investigation technique(s) selected should be sensitive to
both the anticipated ground conditions and the ground
improvement technique(s).
Ground model

Design Cone Penetration Testing (CPT) testing

Methods are now available for interpreting cone penetra-
tion tests (CPTs) using the piezocone (CPTU) for geotechni-
cal engineering purposes in weak clayey/silty soils, with
regard to soil type and stratification and also parameters
such as stress history, undrained shear strength, small strain
shear modulus and coefficient of consolidation. The latter
Geotechnical risk management parameter, for example, can be assessed by measuring the
dissipation or decay of pore pressure with time after a pause
in penetration of the piezocone. Furthermore, an increase in
Building design team Design stage Execution stage
the knowledge and understanding of the factors affecting or
Fig. 2. Important steps for successful ground improvement implementation influencing the results of CPT/CPTU data, is allowing more
consistent results to be obtained. Moreover, the continued
development of high-quality databases of CPTU results and
(c) interfacing of different ground improvement techniques
soil properties is enabling a new or improved set of
(d ) preliminary trials
correlations to be developed (Powell and Lunne, 2005).
(e) practical issues
Much appears to have been written with regard to the
(f) monitoring, testing and quality control
interpretation of coefficient of consolidation and permeabil-
ity from geotechnical site investigation data. CPT equipment
(with some representative reference boreholes and labora-
Geotechnical site investigation tory testing), can provide a useful compromise when com-
pared with the cost of an extensive detailed borehole
For highway projects in the UK there can be a significant investigation incorporating sophisticated ‘undisturbed’ sam-
time period between the initial geotechnical site investiga- pling techniques and subsequent laboratory testing, by
tion and the actual commencement of new highways or providing a lot of high-quality data quickly and economic-
widening of existing highways (owing to public enquiries, ally, particularly for soft alluvial and soft/sensitive clay soil
changes in government policies or funding mechanisms, profiles. However, it is important to recognise that in order
change in route alignment etc.). Boreholes can typically be to ensure confidence in the interpretation of CPTU results in
quite widely spaced and may not be adequate for the more clay soils it is vital that test results are both accurate and
localised particular ground improvement technique(s) that representative of the in situ soil conditions. This can be
are anticipated or being considered. achieved by using equipment and procedures in accordance
Therefore, most initial design is likely to be based on with the new International Reference Test Procedure (IRTP),
limited site investigation and the likely shortcomings of this (ISSMGE, 1999). The use of 10 cm2 cones is typically
should be recognised by the designer(s). Once an optimum recommended and a particular feature of the IRTP is the
design concept has been identified, further geotechnical site ‘accuracy classes’ according to application of the test results.
investigation should take place, to provide the information The strictest accuracy class is applicable when the CPTU
required to allow more detailed design to proceed and to results are required to be used to derive soil design
permit the development of the pre-construction ground parameters in soft clay soils. It is a requirement to measure

C. J. Serridge and O. Synac

50 m River Nar
inclination in addition to cone resistance, sleeve friction and 1m
pore pressure. This allows consistency in test data and
interpretation and estimation of soil type, together with
greater resolution and data quality. Sensitive cones should
be considered where very soft to soft ‘sensitive’ soil profiles
are anticipated.
Historically in the UK reliance has been based on bore-
holes and standard penetration test (SPT) profiling, com-
pared with other parts of Europe and South Africa, for Barroway
example, where CPT is used much more extensively. Based Made Sand/ Terrington Nordelph Drove Marine Kimmeridge
Ground Silt Beds Peat Beds Sand Clay
upon the author’s recent experiences on highway embank-
ment projects in the UK, CPT and its variants such as CPTU,
provide a very versatile geotechnical site investigation tool
and can be readily adapted for/to the specific ground Fig. 4. Geological ground model for section of new relief road construction
improvement application, whether they are utilised for pore at Kings Lynn, Norfolk, UK. Some typical CPT profile locations at 50 m
intervals are also annotated
pressure dissipation tests in soft alluvial soils, or for further
investigating the level, thickness and load-carrying potential
of the soils (e.g. competent glacigenic sands and gravels),
that are required to support vibro concrete column (VCC) ment project, as part of the design and risk management
loads in end bearing. Both these applications were recently process.
employed on the M60 orbital motorway widening scheme in The spacing of elements such as vibro stone columns
south Manchester, to supplement additional borehole inves- (VSCs) or vertical band drains (VBDs) in ground improve-
tigation. This enabled the pre-construction (geological/geo- ment will have a significant influence on cost. By way of
technical) ground model (Fig. 3) to be refined and to feed illustration, 1 m c/c spacing of vertical band drains will
into the risk management strategy, which in turn added potentially cost 300% more than 2 m c/c spacing vertical
confidence to verification of the design. Furthermore, the band drains. In view of this cost-sensitive nature of ground
availability of CPT data in the digitised format of the improvement, it is therefore very important to acquire
Association of Geotechnical and Geo-environmental Specia- sufficient information on the geotechnical properties of the
lists (AGS) within the UK, allows rapid processing and soil profile so that a cost-effective design can be carried out:
review of data and incorporation into the design process. a design can only be as good as the geotechnical information
For a recent new relief road in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, upon which it is based.
where vibro ground improvement techniques were adopted
to support a new highway embankment over soft ground,
original percussion boring borehole investigation techniques The design process and review
had not accurately identified strata boundaries, including a
basal marine sand above the Jurassic Kimmeridge clay, or Typically, the objective of ground improvement for high-
the presence, level and lateral variation in thickness of a way projects is to provide stability and settlement control
relatively thin peaty soil stratum (Flandrian Nordelph Peat), beneath newly constructed embankments over soft soils.
within the soft alluvial soil profile above the Kimmeridge However, provision of appropriate transitions and interfa-
Clay (Fig. 4). The use of less intrusive CPT equipment cing with piled bridge abutments (and any existing highway
(which has the ability to identify features as thin as 20 mm if embankments), is also an important consideration, in order
a CPTU is used), at 50 m longitudinal intervals along the to avoid significant lateral loading on existing abutment
anticipated alignment of the road embankment, provided piles and provide a satisfactory settlement profile behind
more accurate information on the geometry of the soft clay piled bridge abutments (and adjacent to existing embank-
body and impersistent peat horizons (together with sand ments). Dependent upon the soil profile and geometry this
lenses and layers). This again permitted the ground model can be achieved in critical zones using, for example
(Fig. 4) to be refined and to feed back into the risk manage- (although not exclusively), a combination of VCCs; VSCs
ment strategy and design verification process. It is important and VBDs (Figs 5 and 6).
to recognise that all new information on ground conditions The properties of the treated soil mass that are required to
should be communicated to all members of the design team be achieved and at what time need to be clearly defined. It
and the relevant parties involved in the ground improve- is important that the ground improvement design of the
specialist contractor is reviewed by the project geotechnical
100 m Bridgewater Canal consultant to ensure that critical elements are not over-
A56 Chester Rd (J7) River Mersey Metro Link looked, ground properties adopted are realistic and calcu-
lations are executed competently and correctly using
recognised design procedures. Moreover, the ground im-
provement design should demonstrate that the predicted
behaviour is comparable with specified performance criteria
(including, for example, minimum bearing or load-carrying
capacity, maximum total and differential settlement under
load, long-term behaviour and any global stability issues).
Equally important is the observation and monitoring of
Made Alluvium Sands and Glacial Rock Embankment
ground/fill gravels till toe ground conditions (including ground response to ground
improvement installation), to ensure that geotechnical design
assumptions are representative and will provide satisfactory
Fig. 3. Geological ground model for section of M60 orbital motorway performance. Additionally, where there is scope for an
widening (junction 7), Mersey Valley, south Manchester, UK element of design flexibility, an observational approach can

Ground improvement solutions for motorway widening schemes

(2004). It is defined as ‘the effective deployment of site

resources to meet the design and other project objectives in
an optimum manner. It normally includes: the employment

r se
Junction 7
of trained and experienced supervisors and operatives;


purpose-designed plant and equipment; materials that are


water C
carefully specified, stored and used in correct quantities; and

the application of the most appropriate construction method

ester R

for the site and ground conditions.’ The construction tech-


nique is described as an often-neglected element in the

Metro L
A56 Ch

application of deep ground improvement. It is therefore

100 m
advocated by the current authors that the specialist ground
improvement contractor’s experience, equipment (including
monitoring facilities on leader mounted rigs) and materials
Existing line of M60
Proposed widening/access
intended for use should also form part of the design and
Proposed bridge abutments review process.
Treatment zones:
Upper/lower level
Vibro concrete column installation and design
Fig. 5. Use of a combination of different ground improvement techniques VCCs are installed using dry bottom feed vibro equipment
to provide settlement control and stability on the M60 orbital motorway with stone aggregate replaced with a high slump pumpable
widening scheme around junction 7 in the Mersey Valley, south Man-
concrete mix. The vibroflot (vibrating poker) charged with
chester, UK. Upper and lower working platform levels for VSCs are also
annotated concrete, penetrates down to a suitable end bearing stratum
(assisted by the vibratory action of the vibroflot and rig pull-
down facility). Upon reaching this bearing stratum the
vibroflot is withdrawn a short distance from the base of the
bore and concrete allowed to flow out under pressure.
The vibroflot then re-penetrates this zone of concrete
(typically between two and three times) to form an enlarged
end bulb typically of the order of 600 mm in diameter
(dependent upon the geotechnical properties of the end
bearing stratum and vibroflot characteristics). When suitable
resistance has been reached the vibroflot is slowly with-
drawn to the surface with continued controlled pumping of
concrete to form the main shaft of the VCC, typically of the
order of 450 mm equivalent diameter (but again dependent
upon vibroflot characteristics and soil characterisation).
Upon completion of the VCC column to the surface, the
vibroflot can be used to re-penetrate the uppermost section
of the VCC to form an enlarged head (Figs 7(a) and 7(b)).
VCC design typically uses standard pile design methods,
Fig. 6. Ground improvement activity on the M60 orbital motorway but takes account of the enhanced end bearing character-
widening scheme (junction 7), Mersey Valley, south Manchester with the istics associated with the enlarged toe (and densification
A56 Chester Road running top to bottom of picture
effects in granular soils attributed to the vibratory action of
the vibroflot). For ground improvement in the context of
widespread loads from embankment structures, greater
be implemented to ensure economic engineering of difficult emphasis is placed on stiffness–settlement behaviour and
ground. A review of the design should be carried out, as serviceability state, rather than the traditional approach of
necessary, throughout the ground improvement project (see using allowable bearing capacities and factor of safety.
Fig. 2). Good communication between (and within) the Embankments supported by VCCs typically rely on the use
design team and the client is a prerequisite to successful of geosynthetics in the form of geogrid-reinforced granular
design implementation. A good design needs to provide a load transfer platforms (LTPs), to facilitate arching and
robust defence against geotechnical risks, while at the same transfer of embankment loads onto the VCCs. The detailed
time being cost effective, state of the art and relatively optimised design of the VCC supported embankment
simple to install. The overall geotechnical design on the M60 focuses on determining optimum VCC head size and
orbital motorway widening in Manchester, was subject to spacing to support the embankment load (including any
technical approval based on the requirements of the High- highway and traffic loading), which in turn influences the
ways Agency HD22/02 document—‘managing geotechnical optimum design of the geogrid reinforced granular LTP. On
risk’ (Highways Agency, 2002). This covers the desk study, UK highway projects such as the M60 orbital motorway
geotechnical site investigation and interpretation as well as widening (junctions 5–8) and the new relief road construc-
development of the geotechnical design solution(s). For the tion at Kings Lynn, VCCs have been typically employed
M60 widening scheme, performance was specified as 25 mm within a 10 m width zone between piled bridge abutments
total settlement within the first five years following construc- (and also culverts in the case of the Kings Lynn project) and
tion for the finished road surface, whereas for the smaller embankment supported by stone columns and/or band
new relief road at Kings Lynn, 50 mm total settlement was drains, in order to reduce lateral forces on bridge abutment
specified for the finished road surface two years after piles and smooth out the settlement profile behind the
completion. abutment(s). In order to achieve the maximum working
The term ‘construction technique’ was introduced by Bell capacity for the VCCs they were designed to carry load

C. J. Serridge and O. Synac



Fig. 7. (a) Installation sequence for VCCs; (b) installation of a 10 m width

zone of VCCs (centre) behind a new piled bridge abutment on the M60
orbital motorway widening scheme, south Manchester. Pre-augering/boring (b)
is also shown (left of centre) to assist vibroflot penetration through the
near-surface crust of compacted made ground Fig. 8. (a) Installation sequence for VSCs by the dry bottom feed method;
(b) installation of VSCs to support widened embankment on the M60
orbital motorway widening scheme around junction 7, south Manchester.
Pre-augering/boring is also shown (left of centre) to assist vibroflot
largely in end bearings (maximum of 900 kN in dense penetration through the near-surface crust of compacted made ground/
embankment fill
glacigenic granular soils above bedrock in the case of the
M60 motorway widening scheme and a maximum of 350 kN
in stiff Kimmeridge Clay in the case of the Kings Lynn
project). The VCCs were designed as settlement control technique is carried out. In soft alluvial soils the dry bottom
elements to allow a settlement of up to 25 mm under service feed technique is commonly used (Figs 8(a) and 8(b)).
loading. The actual length(s) of VCC to be installed was Charges of stone are introduced by way of a tremie pipe
established prior to installation of main works VCCs by and compacted in stages by the vibroflot (vibrating poker)
carrying out installation trials, including load testing of a until a dense stone column is formed to the surface.
series of installed trial VCCs on the Kings Lynn project. The Priebe (1995) design approach for stone columns is a
Owing to the highly compressible nature of the soft founda- very practical and usable method for assessing the ‘reinfor-
tion soils and the likelihood of time-dependent secondary cing effects’ and performance of stone columns in soft clay
consolidation settlement, no long-term support from the soils for embankment constructions. Barron’s (1948) formula
underlying subsoil was assumed. As a result, the geosyn- for sand drains and developments of this model by subse-
thetic reinforcement was designed to support all the quent researchers (e.g. Schiffman, 1958; Yoshikuni and
embankment load not transferred directly onto the VCC s. Nakanodo, 1974; Olson, 1977; Hansbo 1979, 1981; Hansbo et
al. 1981; Balaam and Booker, 1981), are typically employed
for assessment of rates of consolidation in the presence of
Vibro stone column installation and design stone columns (and vertical band drains). The time-depen-
Within the UK, VSC installation (with a few exceptions), is dent behaviour of granular drains may, for example, be
now principally carried out using the dry technique. The analysed using charts proposed by Balaam and Booker
specific circumstances of bore stability (particularly with (1981). This is an extension of the Barron (1948) formula
regard to fine-grained soils) and groundwater regime, using the approximate diffusion theory for consolidation
determine whether a dry top feed or dry bottom feed based on Biot’s (1941) equation for consolidation. The rates

Ground improvement solutions for motorway widening schemes

100 m
of consolidation are presented in charts depending on the
diameter ratio of the unit cell and the column de /d, the
stiffness ratios of the column and soil undrained conditions
E1 /E2 and a Poisson’s ratio of 0.3, which is assumed to be
equal for both column and soil. A method based on Taylor’s
square root of time fitting (Taylor (1948)) has also been used
by some authors as a guide to assess the degree of
consolidation of the treated soil. While numerical modelling
can also be used for assessing or predicting the performance
of stone columns beneath embankments, this can be more
difficult to handle and time consuming. Experience has
shown that the results obtained by the Priebe (1995) design CFA VCC VSC Band drains
method for stone column performance beneath embank-
ments and results from numerical modelling do not differ Fig. 9. Interfacing of different ground improvement techniques on the M60
significantly. As already intimated it is important to recog- orbital motorway widening scheme, south Manchester. Settlement and
nise that the accuracy of prediction of performance of stability control beneath approach embankment (on soft ground), to new
ground improvement techniques, such as VSCs, and pre- bridge abutment on CFA piles is achieved using a combination of VCCs,
VSCs and vertical band drains (VBDs)
fabricated VBDs, is strongly dependent upon the quality and
accuracy of pre-treatment soil parameters determined from
the geotechnical site investigation. ground improvement techniques behind a new bridge
Stone column spacings are a function of soil properties, construction over the Metro-link tramline and Bridgewater
loading conditions, programme constraints, performance Canal on the M60 widening scheme. These included contin-
requirements and stability among other factors. On recent uous flight auger (CFA) bored piles down to rockhead for
highway projects, for example the M60 motorway widening the new bridge abutment (to minimise impact on existing
(junctions 5–8), these have ranged from around 1.5 m to piled abutments), and the development of a VCC solution
2.1 m centre to centre spacings on a triangular grid arrange- within a 10 m zone behind the proposed new bridge
ment for embankment heights of up to 10 m and for average abutment, including an integral LTP to permit load transfer
600 mm diameter stone columns installed by the dry bottom (via the VCCs) to the underlying competent granular
feed method in soft alluvial soils (with undrained shear glacigenic deposits (with lateral load on bridge pier piles
strengths typically in the range 15–20 kN/m2 ). An appro- therefore substantially removed). Installation of a zone of
priately designed granular drainage blanket is important VSCs was carried out immediately behind the VCCs to
(with geotextile separators above and below, as required). reinforce the weak soils and improve composite soil stiffness
The use of granular fill with high friction angle above the and reduce any lateral soil displacement and stresses on the
closely spaced stone columns to encourage arching of the fill installed VCCs during and after embankment construction.
between stone columns (i.e. to facilitate a satisfactory level Zones of VSCs and VBDs (beneath other sections of the
of load transfer onto the stone columns), or to place high- embankment) permitted stage construction (in conjunction
strength geosynthetics on top of the stone columns before with monitoring of installed instrumentation including
placing of the fill, particularly if embankments are shallow, piezometers, among other geotechnical instrumentation).
is an important consideration. Although consolidation– Fig. 10 shows the typical detail of a stone column ‘transition
settlement calculations may indicate a wider column spa- zone’ (incorporating closer stone column spacings and a
cing, it is generally recommended to restrict the maximum geogrid layer extending into the granular drainage blanket
spacing of stone columns in very soft soil (and where the layer), to facilitate a smooth settlement profile between VCC
embankment height is relatively small), to prevent any and VSC areas.
significant ‘hogging’ effects around the stiffer stone column The short-term stability for embankment construction over
elements. soft clay (in the context of stone columns or band drains in

Interfacing of ground improvement techniques for highway projects

Interfacing of different ground Stone
column Vibro
improvement techniques Stone columns
Piled bridge

When two or more ground improvement techniques are

used in combination (and which interface with each other), Embankment profile
it is important that the settlements and rates of settlement Load transfer platform
Granular drainage blanket
associated with the different techniques are understood and
accommodated within the design, including the provision of
Typically 6–8 m

granular drainage blankets and geogrid reinforced granular

LTPs, to ensure compatability of the different techniques Weak
and achievement of a smooth settlement profile. soils
It is also necessary to evaluate both the magnitude and
rate of settlement of the subsoil supporting the embankment,
during its design, so that the settlement(s) in the long term
will not influence the serviceability and safety of the soils
embankment. Fig. 5 provides an overview of the interfacing
of a combination of ground improvement techniques on the Fig. 10. Interfacing of ground improvement techniques beneath embank-
M60 orbital motorway widening between junctions 5 and 8, ment approach to piled bridge abutment, to provide stability and
south Manchester. Fig. 9 shows a typical interfacing detail of settlement control. Note detail of stone column transition zone

C. J. Serridge and O. Synac

particular), is likely to be more critical than the long-term Clay, (see Fig. 4), to permit, in the case of VSCs for example,
stability simply because the subsoil consolidates with time assessment of both ground response and refinement of
under loading and strength increases. The interfacing of the installation procedures using the dry bottom feed stone
different ground improvement techniques in the manner column technique. Use of the wet top feed (vibroreplace-
described above (including stone column transition zones, ment) technique was not permitted on environmental
see Fig. 10), results in gradual, rather than abrupt, changes grounds.
in (composite) ground stiffness behind the piled bridge One of the main issues with VCC design is selection of
abutment and therefore a smoother settlement gradient, criteria for settlement and factors of safety that are compa-
acceptable vehicle ride quality and reduced long-term main- tible and which allow for the likely variability of the ground,
tenance. A similar approach was adopted on the Kings Lynn yet limit differential settlement(s) between piled bridge
relief road scheme using a combination of VCCs and VSCs. structures and VSC zones beneath the adjoining sections of
Figs 11(a) and 11(b) show installation of a zone of VCCs embankment. This can only realistically be achieved by
between raking driven pre-cast concrete piles (for the making a prediction of VCC behaviour based on preliminary
proposed abutments to a new road bridge across the River tests with large head displacements (Fig. 12(b)) and on the
Nar) and zones designated for VSCs to support the best estimate of the soil parameters from available geotech-
proposed embankment construction (and approaches) over nical data. Preliminary VCC tests undertaken on the Kings
soft ground. Lynn project were analysed using curve fitting hyperbolic
functions as described by Fleming (1992) with asymptotic
definition of the ultimate load (Fig. 12(a)). Ultimate skin
friction and end bearing values of 150 kN and 300 kN
Preliminary trials respectively were derived from the analysis. VCC design
parameters were back analysed using standard bearing
Vibro ground improvement techniques, by virtue of their capacity calculations and known soil parameters in the trial
flexibility and reliability, have proved to be suitable for a area. An assumption was made on the distribution of skin
wide range of soils and highway embankment structures friction in the soft alluvial soils and in firm–stiff/stiff over-
constructed over soft ground. However, preliminary trials consolidated Kimmeridge Clay. To allow for the required
(where programme and contractual constraints permit), are VCC settlement criteria at serviceability states and in order
an important prerequisite to any large-scale ground im- to limit differential settlements, varying factors of safety
provement implementation for highway projects, particu- ranging from 1.15 to 1.5 were proposed across the VCC
larly where new applications or systems (innovative treatment zones. The square or rectangular VCC grid
techniques), are being proposed and/or ground conditions spacings were determined using proposed factors of safety
are complex. They also permit assessment of ground and combined embankment and highway (live) loading
response, refinement of design and more accurate prediction conditions.
of long-term performance. Some ground improvement is There was also opportunity to construct a surcharge load
potentially set at ‘high risk’ in difficult ground until trials test on an array of trial stone columns (VSC trials) installed
are successful.
Such an approach was adopted for the Kings Lynn relief
road project, where VCCs were required to be end bearing Load: kN
in stiff Upper Jurassic Clay and VSCs were required to be 0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700
installed through Flandrian (and Recent) very soft to soft 0
marine alluvial and alluvial soils overlying the Kimmeridge
10 Projected
Settlement: mm


End bearing
Skin friction





Load: kN

400 Load
100 0
0 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 ⫺11
Settlement: mm

Displacement Time: h ⫺33
(a) (b) ⫺77
Fig. 11. (a) and (b): settlement and stability control between piled ⫺110
foundations (raked driven pre-cast concrete piles), for new abutments to (b)
accommodate a bridge crossing over the River Nar at Kings Lynn, Norfolk,
and proposed embankment approach construction to be supported on soft Fig. 12(a) VCC settlement analysis where solid vertical line equals chosen
ground reinforced with VSCs, using a 10 m width zone of VCCs (see also factor of safety and (b) VCC stiffness–settlement behaviour for VCC trials
Fig. 10) end bearing in Kimmeridge Clay at Kings Lynn, Norfolk, UK

Ground improvement solutions for motorway widening schemes

at relatively low cost, to gain some insight of likely perform- needed to be installed from one platform level because of
ance (utilising sand fill, which had been previously used to the LTP requirements, among other factors. Stone columns
assess the performance of the untreated ground, see Fig. 13). had to be installed from two levels: a higher and lower
However, monitoring of actual full embankment construc- working platform level (Figs 14 and 15) which influenced
tion (3.0 m) on installed stone columns (main works) yielded both the loading conditions and in turn the stone column
significantly lesser settlements than the VSC trials (Fig. 13). design (notably column spacings and lengths). Some pre-
This supports comments and written discussion put forward boring, particularly for higher working platform levels in
by Greenwood (1976, 2004). The reason for the better VSC areas was necessary to facilitate penetration of vibroflot
performance of the full embankment construction is attrib- equipment through the existing competent embankment fill
uted to ‘loading conditions strongly influencing the stiffness into the underlying soft alluvial soils. Localised CFA piling
and strength of stone columns’ (Greenwood, 1976). ‘Except (Fig. 16) was required adjacent to a drainage culvert within
for columns towards the edge of the loaded area, the one of the VCC zones (close to the Metro-link tramline, see
columns become stiffer and stronger as load is applied’. As also Fig. 5), in view of concerns with regard to the vibratory
a result stone columns in large arrays under wide loaded effects and horizontal forces associated with the vibro
areas such as embankments perform better than those under equipment.
smaller loaded areas where more columns are constrained
only by ground which is not loaded (Greenwood, 2004). The
‘smaller-scale’ surcharge load test on stone columns at Kings
Lynn therefore shows the stone columns to be less stiff and
settling/deforming more under test loads than the full Monitoring, testing and quality
embankment construction. Moreover, the surcharge load control
tests at Kings Lynn support comments by Greenwood (1991)
that ‘for proving stone columns under wide loaded areas, Good supervision and experienced site personnel are
attention is best spent by supervising stone column construc- essential to ensure that the ground improvement design is
tion very closely to ensure that design specifications are
consistently met’.
The VCC and VSC trials became the benchmark for site
controls and verification on the Kings Lynn project.

Practical issues
There are practical issues to consider when implementing
ground improvement techniques, particularly for highway
embankment widening schemes, as the existing motorway/
highway will generally need to remain operational. This
might involve, for example, use of sheet piling and carrying
out ground improvement from one or more levels to permit
access and safe working. Such matters needed to be
addressed on the M60 motorway widening scheme where
new embankments extend out over the slope of the existing
embankments and for some distance beyond the toe. Fig. 14. M60 orbital motorway widening around junction 7, south Man-
chester, between the A56 Chester Road and the River Mersey (see Fig. 5)
Because of the gradients of the existing embankments, it was
showing upper and lower working platforms for the VSC installation and
necessary to excavate into the existing embankment side new motorway off-slip road
slopes, with temporary steepening or the use of temporary
slope support including sheet piling and anchored sheet
piling. This applied to VCC areas, for example, where VCCs

Recorded settlement: mm

Main works

VSC trials

Surcharge trials 120

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Elapsed time: weeks
Fig. 15. M60 orbital motorway widening around junction 7, Sale, south
Fig. 13. Settlement monitoring results at Kings Lynn, Norfolk, for sur- Manchester, between the River Mersey and the Bridgewater Canal/Metro
charge trials on untreated ground and soil reinforced with stone columns Link tramline (see Fig. 5), showing working platform(s) for VSC installation
(VSC trials), with performance of stone columns under full embankment to support embankment construction between proposed piled bridge
construction (main works) also added abutments

C. J. Serridge and O. Synac

Piezometer readings


Groundwater level: m AOD







0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Elapsed time: weeks

VCC zone VCC zone VSC zone

Fig. 17. Typical piezometer data associated with VCC and VSC zones
during and following application of embankment loads for the M60 orbital
motorway widening around junction 7, south Manchester, UK

Fig. 16. Installation of CFA piles adjacent to an existing water main within a
zone of VCCs adjacent to proposed new piled bridge abutment (and
associated bridge construction), to carry widened motorway across the bearing strata. Opportunity was also taken by the design
Metro Link tramline and Bridgewater Canal (see Fig. 5) on the M60 orbital team to install pressure cells over selected installed VCCs
motorway widening scheme (junction 7) Sale, south Manchester and also within the near-surface soils between installed
VCCs prior to installation of the LTP and subsequent
embankment construction. A typical arrangement is shown
in Fig. 18. Data obtained further confirmed the effectiveness
implemented correctly in the field. Computerised monitor- of the combined VCC–LTP arrangement in transferring
ing of installation parameters during column construction embankment loads through the soft compressible alluvial
(both VCCs and VSCs) is essential. For VCCs, concreting soils to competent end bearing strata.
pressures are essential. For VSCs, close observation and On the M60 motorway widening, instrumentation was
monitoring of the cross-sectional area; stone aggregate monitored by the project geotechnical consultant and deci-
consumption (and compaction of the introduced aggregate), sions on when it was safe to raise the embankments based
is important to ensure that the design area replacement ratio on previously prepared stability charts and measurement of
is being achieved. Site records (including computerised pore water pressures, among other parameters. During the
records), should be reviewed on a regular basis during the design process it is also very important to check the stability
implementation of the ground improvement works. While of the embankment(s) with consideration of different poten-
zone load tests and surcharge tests can be used to examine tial failure surfaces (circular and non-circular).
the performance of the composite stone column–soil system,
applicability will depend on scale effects (i.e. size of the test
relative to the extent of the final embankment structure). In
this regard and for reasons described earlier, efforts should Conclusions
be focused more on achieving the required design para-
One of the main objectives of the current paper has been
meters in the field, through close supervision, monitoring
to promote discussion on the way we approach ground
and implementation of effective quality control procedures.
improvement design and implementation for highway em-
Verification testing for VCCs might typically include
bankment construction over soft ground (with emphasis on
dynamic testing on selected VCCs to assess the elastic/
immediate settlement behaviour of the column under the
design loading. The integrity of the VCC can be checked 650 100 mm sand layer Supply and return lines
randomly by sonic integrity testing. Performance testing
might typically comprise zone load testing on either indivi-
dual VCCs or groups of VCCs. Filter
Equally important is the monitoring of installed geotechni- VCC

cal instrumentation, particularly during and following em- 450

bankment construction (especially for stone columns and 300 mm dia.
band drains). By way of illustration, some typical piezometer Wire pressure cell
readings measured in VSC and adjoining VCC areas during
embankment construction in one of the combined ground Coarse sand

improvement zones on the M60 motorway widening scheme

are presented in Fig. 17. These clearly demonstrate the
Fig. 18. Location of wire pressure cells over and between installed VCCs
enhanced drainage effects of the stone columns under the
to monitor load/pressure distribution between VCCs and intervening soil
applied embankment loads and the effectiveness of the (following construction of the geogrid reinforced granular LTP), during
combined VCC and geogrid reinforced granular LTP at application of embankment loads on the M60 orbital motorway widening
transferring the embankment loading to competent end scheme, south Manchester, UK

Ground improvement solutions for motorway widening schemes

geotechnical site investigation and practical aspects), based orbital motorway widening scheme (junctions 5–8), south
on recent ground improvement experiences on two highway Manchester, UK.
embankment projects in the UK (the M60 orbital motorway
widening (junctions 5–8), in south Manchester and a new
relief road in Kings Lynn). These demonstrate that geotech-
nical design can be innovative and provide cost-effective References
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Photographs in Figs 1, 6, 7(b), 14 and 15 are courtesy of Discussion contributions on this paper should reach the
the Amec–Alfred Mc Alpine Joint Venture for the M60 editor by 1 April 2008