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Slope Retained wall failure

Slope Retained wall failure

Slope Retained wall failure

My firm (acting as a subcontractor) has installed a soldier pile lagging wall that has failed by excessive deflection (2 ft in some cases). The wall is 15 ft high, with precast lagging panels and HP14x89 beams in 24" concrete filled holes. The purpose of the wall is to retain a landslide in a rain forest that continues to cover a mountain roadway. The wall was designed by the FHWA, who are claiming that we did not drill the piles far enough into rock (they required 7' of rock}. At the start of the job we did ask how we would know when to stop the piles and were told that it would be obvious as we were drilling through rock, and the inspector would confirm the pile depth. We are sure we drilled 7' into rock, but they are now using the term "bedrock" in an area where the bedrock is covered with weathered rock. Nevertheless the inspector verified we had enough tip depth.
The question here is the original design - the calcs are for a standard flexible retaining wall with a level backfill and homogeneous soil conditions, with no accountability for rock or a unstable slope, or considering water behind the wall (it is a rain forest near Cuba). We have pictures of a 7' diameter boulder that is now behind the wall, which was not there when we drilled the piles, and the GC is constantly regrading the backfill slope as it is unstable. I think the original design is not adequate for the actual conditions, but they keep pressing us that we did not drill deep enough. Do you design walls to retain unstable slopes like this? Any opinions?

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

It is difficult to be sure as to what is going on hear based on teh information you have provided.  

My best estimate is that the wall may not have been designed for the proper loading conditions.  Soldier pile walls can and are designed to resist the forces of an unstable slope, however, the loads are different than for a standard retaining wall design.  

My suggestion is that your firm needs to hire an experienced geotechnical engineer to review the original design and the existing conditions.  Based on this review you should be able to determine the best path forward.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

I agree with GeoPaveTraffic.

First, a 15' cantilevered, soldier beam wall is pushing the limits for even a non-landslide condition.  With a landslide condition, the earth loads can be significantly higher.  Therefore, the odds are that the HP14x89 soldier beams could be too small and or the embedment into rock (especially if weathered or fractured) could be insufficient.  You need a slope stability analysis, not a simple retaining wall design.  A slope stability analysis is only as good as the accuracy of the soil and rock properties you use.  Hire a geotech who can get the proper soil and rock values and run the analysis.

Second, I never recommend using precast lagging panels for a wall being built by top-down construction - especially in a landslide condition.  What holds up the already unstable hillside while you open cut to install the soldier beams and precast lagging?  Precast lagging panels usually need to be installed from the bottom up, after the full height cut has been made.  This can lead to an unsafe, unstable, illegal working condition.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

Do you have a benchmark of original alignment, say undeflected ends?  Check angle of beam and misalignment and try to figure if socket failure or pile bending.  If pile, end of discussion.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

Geopave/PEInc: the wall was designed like a backyard retaining wall w/ no slope; the design assumed that active conditions would develop behind the wall. This does not appear correct, but they say the wall design is suitable. However, there are portions of the wall on the same slope where it is performing fine. Tension cracks on the slope behind the wall all "trend" toward the wall section that is deflecting.

Pslem: We have measured the top deflection and the movement at groundline (roadway elev). The pile has moved at the roadway elev. and you can see that the HP beam has broken through the concrete pile. It appears the concrete pile is trying to stay in place and the HP is moving outward.  

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

The broken concrete should indicate pile bending rather than rotation of pile and socket due to too soft rock.  If the socket retained the pile enough to allow it to be bent, it was adequate and the pile section was not.   

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

It sounds like the earth pressure was very much more than active. Just because the designer says his design is "suitable," that doesn't make it so.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

Perhaps you don't have active or lateral earth pressure acting governing given that portions of the wall are okay.  Perhaps the wall has unstable joint patterns in the weathered rock where you are (or you are in a pocket of deeper weathering) and, depending on the downslope situation - the wall is being thus affected.  We had this on a recent job - landslide (no wall) and had to flatten the slope to less than 40deg.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

I'd go for questioning the design pressures by measuring the pressure that is present on site.  Easy said, but not easy done.

The bending of the H pile should at least give the actual bending moment by back calculating.

Can you insert any sort of pressure measuring device between the earth and the wall, such as one would install on a wall before backfilling it?

Can you measure the deflecting of the lagging unints and relate to pressure?  They might be taken into a lab and loaded to get their "spring constant".

Can some installation of strain gages be done to accomplish this?

Could you cut a vertical notch in a lagging unit after installing a moment measuring "device" outboard to take the bending tensile part lost by the cut. That might be a steel strap with strain gauge as an idea for that.


RE: Slope Retained wall failure

If there is a slope above the top of the wall and the original design did not include the slope; then the design was inadaquate.  If the slope where the wall is located was unstable before the wall was constructed and the design used active earth pressures; then the design was inadaquate.

I go back to my original post, get an experienced local (if possible) geotechnical engineer involved. That is the only chance you have of convincing the original designer that his design was inadaquate.  Otherwise, I expect that you will be paying for the new wall.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

Seeing the photo

The H piles (as it seems they should) for the seen part are not stressed in the apparent length as to cause bending deflection. The slope pressure is then more than anything arcing towards the lower surface. Without knowing what happens under ground level it is difficult to ascertain if there is bending or rigid rotation underground but the photo seems to indicate rigid body rotation and lack of embedment.

The design seems flawed by just not being designed properly as a retention system as the slope stability case demands. The designer needs to determine a critical wedge for a long (active) slope and this differs from the common retaining wall design. However pressures can be determined from a properly determined critical wedge.

In any case you may have drilled enough in the weak rock, the piles and slabs be strong enough ... and the weak rock fail due to embedment be not enough.  

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

First of all I am surprised that you have not mentioned a geotechnical investigation. What did the designer rely on to complete his design?

Judging from the picture the soil appears to have a fair amount of plastic material with a significant amount of moisture in it as well.

A quick check of the cut using the steel section decribed above and asuming 3ft spacing between piles and that the total pile length is about 25ft, we get the following:

1.  If the 7ft embedment in rock is verified, the pile would not be expected to deflect more than 2-4in. (Joints not acounted for)

2.  If the rock embedment is not there or limited, the pile tends to rotate (and this is evident in the picture) and yes, the 2ft deflection or more becomes plausible.  A 3ft embedment gets you close to 10-12in of deflection (assuming the same quality soil continues to the surface of the rock)

Bear in mind that these are sketchy (but indicative) calculations based on the limited information available.

Moral of the story, weigh your move carefully before you react, and "get the help of a professional geotech" and drill a couple of holes to verify the soil quality in the embedment zone including the quality of the "rock".

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

The spacing between the piles is 5'. With typical pile depth of 20' bgs (36' total, 7' rock embedment), 16.5 deg slope, full water pressure behind wall, no contribution to stiffness from concrete (it is cracked), the deflection at the top using a p-y analysis is 21". The original design assumed a backfill unit weight of 105 pcf and a phi of 23 deg. I used gamma of 125 pcf for my analysis (the slope is a saturated clay w/ boulders).
A geotech report was done but is of limited value as only 2 borings were done at the road level, one each side of the slope covered roadway.  

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

Interesting photo. My first thoughts when I opened the photo was, where are the tiebacks (nails/deadman/etc).  This system is at the brink of its cantilever ability - we generally start thinking of some form of tieback system when we need to support an excavated wall (stable) of approximately 4.5 metres or greater. The need for a suitable tieback system would be even greater when the slope is unstable.  

You mentioned boulders and it made me think about the paleo-channels (buried gullies) we get on our mountain slopes - the water that flows down these gullies is often very powerful, especially after intense rainfalls.  Is it possible that you may have such a buried channel or gully at this point of the soldier pile wall where the water becomes trapped behind the wall and the water pressure builds. It appears quite muddy in front of the failed part of the soldier wall.

Next question - were the steel soldiers joined? and how were they joined? I noticed that other soldier piles appear shorter in the photo and I would assume the joint is located deeper in the ground, where as the failed pile length appears much longer?? Possibly indicating variable rock penetration, hence variability in the rock? Two borings may not have been enough information on the rock quality.

Just some thoughts from viewing the photo.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

More questions for you, Kleo:

What was the timing of the failure (occurred suddenly while a D8 was tracking fill along it, overnight when nobody was there to see it, gradually yielded during fill placement)?

How was the fill being compacted against the wall?  Against a stiff wall, the pressure can get much greater than active or even Ko.  This one was probably pretty soft, however.

Was the designer counting on much help from passive resistance?
Somebody check me on the following.  (Took my last structural engrg class in 1980.)

HP 14x89: Section modulus = 131 in^3.  If it's 60 ksi steel, the yield moment is 7860 k-in or 655 k-ft or 655,000 lb-ft.  The yield moment is when the outermost fibers of the beam reach yield.  The plastic moment (when the full section is yielding and full resistance is mobilized) would be higher than that, but I'm too lazy to figure it out.

Assume Ka = 0.5, gamma = 125 pcf, height of fill = 15', spacing between soldiers = 5'.

Bending moment = force*moment arm = [area supported by each soldier]*[avg. pressure]*[moment arm]

 = [5'*15']*[1/2*0.5*15'*125 pcf]*[15'/3] = 176,000 lb-ft

Changing ht. to 20':

Bending moment = [5'*20']*[1/2*0.5*20'*125 pcf]*[20'/3] = 416,000 lb-ft.

If it's only 50 ksi steel, the yield moment would be 546,000.


RE: Slope Retained wall failure

Is it my overactive imagination, or are there signs of flanges buckling just above the pile of loose soil at 232, where the man is  pointing, and what I assume is soldier pile no. 233, just left of 232?

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

I don't see flange buckling when I enlarge the photo.  I also do not see any soil bulging up in front of the soldier beams (as might be expected with insufficient passive resistance).  As I said before, 15' is high for a  cantilevered soldier beam.  I've done it; but usually try not to.  Drilling 7 feet into rock may be good if the rock is solid; but if it is very fractured, it may not be any stronger than crushed stone.  In that case, 7' probably would not be enough embedment.

The OP said that the wall supported a landslide in a rain forest.  I believe that best thing to do is check the original design to see if heavy enough design loads were used (I doubt it) and to check the borings and drill logs to check the competency of the "rock" socket.  

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

One thing you will notice if you look closely is that pile 229 is twisted clockwise in plan view from the wall top. The pile was installed that way, with a bend in the flange, as it was damaged during construction. The bend was at the roadway grade elevation. This surely reduced the bending resistance of the H-pile.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

Sorry, but I do not see any 229 damage in the picture.  Maybe it is evident in the field; but I think it is a stretch to say there is damage (other than the leaning) by looking at the one picture.  229 looks no worse than 230.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

"With typical pile depth of 20' bgs (36' total, 7' rock embedment)"

From the photo provided (and the apparent size of the landslide), the slide plane would seem to be much deeper than 13' below grade.  Am I correct in assuming that the photo was taken near the middle of the slope failure?  Yikes!

"A geotech report was done but is of limited value as only 2 borings were done at the road level, one each side of the slope covered roadway"

Sounds like the borings were done on the sides or lateral margins of the landslide.  You would expect bedrock to be shallower on the margins of the landslide, rather than the center of it.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

Kleo - could you post a sketch of the cross section?  I want to be sure I understand where the base of the slide is, what the piles are set into, etc.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

The 229 beam looks like it is not in the same orientation as the adjacent soldier beams but I still do not see the flange damage you refer to.  If you saw damage, I'm sure it is there.  However, your problem is more than one damaged soldier beam.  One damaged soldier beam will not cause a wall to fail as shown in your first picture.  HP14x89, GR50, soldier beams are fairly strong and they still appear to be fairly straight, although no longer plumb.  I suspect that the lateral load was much greater than the design load and that the passive resistance, supposedly in rock, was less that that counted on in the design. 15' is above the normal cantilevering height even for competent soils.  A landslide condition makes it even less appropriate to cantilever 15 feet.  The only thing favoring the original design is the close, 5' beam spacing (which is usually too close and too expensive).  The rest of the design is, to me, suspect.

RE: Slope Retained wall failure

When I look at the original picture, the height of the precast lagging panels appears to be not much less than the 14.695" flange width of the HP14x89 soldier beams.  There are as many as 19 lagging panels high showing in the picture.  If the panels are only 12" high, that's a 19' high wall - not a 15' wall.  At 14" high, the wall would be as high as 22 feet!  Please double check the 15' wall height. A 15' wall with 19 panels would mean the panels are less than 10" high.  10" lagging panels seem too small for what I see in the picture and for what I have designed in the past.

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