Accounting for seismic forces and thermal expansion in bridge design requires an accurate passive force-deflection relationship for the abutment wall. Current design codes make no allowance for skew effects on passive force; however, large scale field tests indicate that there is a substantial reduction in peak passive force as skew angle increases. A reduction in passive force also reduces the transverse shear resistance on the abutment. The purpose of this study is to validate three-dimensional model using PLAXIS 3D, against large scale test results performed at Brigham Young University and to develop a set of calibrated finite element models. The model set could be used to evaluate the variation in passive resistance with skew angle for various abutment geometries and backfill types. Initially, the finite element model was calibrated using the results from a suite of field tests where the backfill material consisted of dense compacted sand. Results were available for skew angles of 0, 15, 30 and 45°. Numerical model results were compared with measured passive force-deflection curves, ground surface heave and displacement contours, longitudinal displacements, and failure plane geometry. Soil properties were defined by laboratory testing and in-situ direct shear tests on the compacted fill. Soil properties and mesh geometries were primarily calibrated based on the zero skew test results. The results were particularly sensitive to the soil friction angle, wall friction angle, angle of dilatancy, soil stiffness and lateral restraint of the abutment backwall movement. Reasonable agreement between measured and computed response was obtained in all cases confirming numerically that passive force decreases as skew angle increases Additional analyses were then performed for abutments with different soil boundaries.



College and Department

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



Date Submitted


Document Type





finite element analysis, passive force, bridge abutment, skew, pile caps, lateral resistance, PYCAP, earthquake, seismic