Correct understanding of passive force behavior is particularly key to lateral evaluations of bridges because plastic deformation of soil backfill is vital to dissipation of earthquake energy and thermally-induced stresses in abutments. Only recently have studies investigated the effects of skew on passive force. Numerical modeling and a handful of skewed abutment tests performed in sand backfill have found reduced passive force with increasing skew, but previous to this study no skewed tests had been performed in gravel or Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil (GRS) backfills. The goal of this study was to better understand passive force behavior in non-skewed and skewed abutments with gravel and GRS backfills. Prior to this study, passive pressures in a GRS integrated approach had not been investigated. Gravel backfills also lack extensive passive force tests.Large-scale testing was performed with non-skewed and 30° skewed abutment configurations. Two tests were performed at each skew angle, one with unconfined gravel backfill and one with GRS backfill, for a total of four tests. The test abutment backwall was 11 ft (3.35 m) wide, non-skewed, and 5.5 ft (1.68 m) high and loaded laterally into the backfill. However, due to actuator loading constraints, all tests except the non-skewed unconfined gravel test were performed to a backfill height of 3.5 ft (1.07 m). The passive force results for the unconfined gravel test was scaled to a 3.5 ft (1.07 m) height for comparison.Test results in both sets of backfills confirmed previous findings that there is significant reduction in passive force with skewed abutment configurations. The reduction factor was 0.58 for the gravel backfill and 0.63 for the GRS backfill, compared to the predicted reduction factor of 0.53 for a 30° skew. These results are within the scatter of previous skewed testing, but could indicate that slightly higher reduction factors may be applicable for gravel backfills. Both backfills exhibited greater passive strength than sand backfills due to increased internal friction angle and unit weight. The GRS backfill had reduced initial stiffness and only reached 79% to 87% of the passive force developed by the unreinforced gravel backfill. This reduction was considered to be a result of reduced interface friction due to the geotextile. Additionally, the GRS behaved more linearly than unreinforced soil. This backfill elasticity is favorable in the GRS-Integrated Bridge System (GRS-IBS) abutment configuration because it allows thermal movement without developing excessive induced stresses in the bridge superstructure.



College and Department

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



Date Submitted


Document Type





passive force, skewed abutment, bridge abutment, pile cap, geosynthetics, geotextile, GRS, IBS, gravel, large-scale, earthquake, seismic