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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Current Program

The Geotechnical Research Program conducts applied research to solve transportation-related problems with the aim of building a transportation infrastructure that is economical, safer, and longer lasting. Many projects are conducted in-house in our state-of-the-art laboratories; the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) also supports external research projects through funding, participation in National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) and Transportation Pooled Fund studies, and evaluation of results.

The FHWA Geotechnical Program's focus areas are: (1) Innovations in Design and Construction; (2) Geotechnics of Scour; (3) Advanced Site Characterization; (4) Geotechnical Aspects of Pavements; and (5) Geotechnical Asset and Performance Management.

Projects are determined based on the research needs of the transportation industry and the potential for national impact. The FHWA geotechnical research program identifies these needs through cooperation with FHWA field offices, Department of Transportation headquarters, Federal Lands Highway Division, and the Resource Center. Feedback is also gained from industry, academia, and contractors.

Figure 1. Side view of pier failure for a geosynthetic reinforced soil performance test. Layers are slumped and loose aggregate is strewn on the floor of the test facility. A shallow shear failure plane is shown throughout the composite. A reaction assembly is shown around the pier with a concrete footing on top of the pier.
Figure 1. Unconfined Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil Performance Test at Failure.

Research is currently being performed in the following areas:

  1. Engineered fills. 
  2. Laboratory testing of aggregates.
  3. Geotechnical aspects of pavements.
  4. Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD) for geotechnology.
  5. Bridge/Approach transitions.
  6. Geotechnical aspects of scour.
  7. Retaining walls and foundations.
  8. Long-term performance and management of geotechnical assets.
  9. Remote automated data collection systems.
  10. Freeze-thaw durability of dry cast block products.
  11. Corrosion of buried metallic elements.

Click here to download the latest FHWA Deep Foundation Load Test Database (DFLTD v.2), developed in 2016.

Figure 2. This is a photo of the Sunday Creek geosynthetic reinforced soil integrated bridge system with a red-type truss structure in King County, Washington. The bridge crosses a creek and is protected by rip rap.

Figure 2. Sunday Creek GRS Bridge in King County, WA.

A key success of the research program is the development and implementation of the Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil Integrated Bridge System (GRS-IBS). The proven performance of those bridges led to the selection of GRS-IBS technology for the FHWA’s first, second, and third rounds of the Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative. Since 2010, over 300 bridges have been designed and constructed as a result of the Agency’s efforts. More information on the technology can be found on the GRS-IBS website.