Accounting for seismic forces and thermal expansion in bridge design requires an accurate passive force versus backwall deflection relationship. Current design codes make no allowances for skew effects on the development of the passive force. However, small-scale experimental results and available numerical models indicate that there is a significant reduction in peak passive force as skew angle increases for plane-strain cases. To further explore this issue large-scale field tests were conducted at skew angles of 0°, 15°, and 30° with unconfined backfill geometry. The abutment backwall was 11 feet (3.35-m) wide by 5.5 feet (1.68-m) high, and backfill material consisted of dense compacted sand. The peak passive force for the 15° and 30° tests was found to be 73% and 58%, respectively, of the peak passive force for the 0° test which is in good agreement with the small-scale laboratory tests and numerical model results. However, the small differences may suggest that backfill properties (e.g. geometry and density) may have some slight effect on the reduction in peak passive force with respect to skew angle. Longitudinal displacement of the backfill at the peak passive force was found to be approximately 3% of the backfill height for all field tests and is consistent with previously reported values for large-scale passive force-deflection tests, though skew angle may slightly reduce the deflection necessary to reach backfill failure. The backfill failure mechanism appears to transition from a log spiral type failure mechanism where Prandtl and Rankine failure zones develop at low skew angles, to a failure mechanism where a Prandtl failure zone does not develop as skew angle increases.



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 caps, lateral resistance