Passive force-deflection behavior for densely compacted backfills must be considered in bridge design to ensure adequate resistance to both seismic and thermally induced forces. Current codes and practices do not distinguish between skewed and non-skewed bridge abutment geometries; however, in recent years, numerical models and small-scale, plane-strain laboratory tests have suggested a significant reduction in passive force for skewed bridge abutments. Also, various case studies have suggested higher soil stresses might be experienced on the acute side of the skew angle. For these reasons, three large-scale tests were performed with abutment skew angles of 0, 15 and 30 degrees using an existing pile cap [11-ft (3.35-m) wide by 15-ft (4.57-m) long by 5.5-ft (1.68-m) high] and densely compacted sand backfill confined by MSE wingwalls. These tests showed a significant reduction in passive force (approximately 38% as a result of the 15 degree skew angle and 51% as a result of the 30° skew angle. The maximum passive force was achieved at a deflection of approximately 5% of the backwall height; however, a substantial loss in the rate of strength gain was observed at a deflection of approximately 3% of the backwall height for the 15° and 30° skew tests. Additionally, the soil stiffness appears to be largely unaffected by skew angle for small displacements. These results correlate very well with data available from numerical modeling and small-scale lab tests. Maximum vertical backfill displacement and maximum soil pressure measured normal to the skewed backwall face were located on the acute side of the skew for the 15° and 30° skew test. This observation appears to be consistent with observations made in various case studies for skewed bridge abutments. Also, the maximum outward displacement of the MSE wingwalls was located on the obtuse side of the skew. These findings suggest that changes should be made to current codes and practices to properly account for skew angle in bridge design.



College and Department

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



Date Submitted


Document Type





passive force, bridge abutment, large-scale, skew, pile cap, lateral resistance, backwall pressure, MSE wingwalls, mechanically stabilized earth, PYCAP, Abutment, inclinometer, shape array