Full-scale lateral load tests were performed on a pile cap with five backfill conditions: no backfill, densely compacted fine gravel, loosely compacted fine gravel, densely compacted coarse gravel, and loosely compacted coarse gravel. Static loads, applied by hydraulic load actuators, were followed by low-frequency, actuator-driven cyclic loads as well as higher frequency dynamic loads from an eccentric mass shaker. Passive resistance from the backfill significantly increased the lateral capacity of the pile cap. Densely compacted backfill materials contributed about 70% of the total system resistance, whereas loosely compacted backfill materials contributed about 40%. The mobilized passive resistance occurred at displacement-to-height ratios of about 0.04 for the densely compacted gravels, whereas passive resistance in the loosely compacted materials does not fully mobilize until greater displacements are reached. Three methods were used to model the passive resistance of the backfill. Comparisons between calculated and measured responses for the densely compacted backfills indicate that in-situ shear strength test parameters provide reasonable agreement when a log-spiral method is used. Reasonable agreement for the loosely compacted backfills was obtained by either significantly reducing the interface friction angle to near zero or reducing the soil's frictional strength by a factor ranging from 0.65 to 0.85. Cracking, elevation changes, and horizontal strains in the backfill indicate that the looser materials fail differently than their densely compacted counterparts. Under both low frequency cyclic loading and higher frequency shaker loading, the backfill significantly increased the stiffness of the system. Loosely compacted soils approximately doubled the stiffness of the pile cap without backfill and densely compacted materials roughly quadrupled the stiffness of the pile cap. The backfill also affected the damping of the system in both the cyclic and the dynamic cases, with a typical damping ratio of at least 15% being observed for the foundation system.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Civil and Environmental Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





passive pressure, pile caps, gravel, load tests, dynamic response, bridge abutments, backfills