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Performance of Stabilized and Unstabilized Pavement Foundation after Extreme Events



Extreme weather events can have a catastrophic effect on infrastructure, including the transportation system. Though often not immediately visible, this damage can extend to subgrade and base layers. Extended periods of saturation from hurricane-induced flooding events threaten the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, such as Harvey in Texas in 2017, and periods of extended flooding can occur through much of the country, such as the flooding of I-29 and I-70 and many other highways throughout the Midwest in 2019. Other extreme weather events to consider are those that cause large temperatures fluctuations in pavement foundation. Stabilization of subgrade and base layers can dramatically improve resiliency during these events, however, damage still occurs. Predicting and/or estimating damage from such events for existing and proposed pavement designs is a necessary part of minimizing life cycle costs and practicing effective geotechnical asset management.

Research Description

The urgency of this issue has been recognized and some work has been published recently in this area, such as Asadi et al (2020) and a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine special report (2014) that address important aspects of the problem. However, many questions have not been fully addressed. These questions include but are not limited to: what are the most resilient stabilization methods (mechanical, geosynthetic, or chemical), both immediately after the event and over the long term for given soil types; should additional stabilizer be specified during design in anticipation of such events and if so, how much; what is the expected reduction in pavement life after inundation with or without traffic loads; change in freeze/thaw cycles, what weight limitations should be imposed, if any, after an inundation event and for how long; and to what degree has the expected life of an existing pavement foundation has been impacted by a particular extreme event.

Research is needed to identify properties of stabilized subgrades and base layers that significantly influence performance during and after extreme events. This information can be incorporated into design procedures and the asset management plan.


The proposed project has the following significant objectives:

The primary objective of this research is to gather field data of pavement foundation subjected to extreme events and to characterize the modulus, strength, compressibility and other properties of stabilized and unstabilized layers from immediately after the event until full recovery occurs. Gathering such data will likely require a partnership that includes multiple states such that sampling teams can be deployed quickly to collect samples as needed.

A second objective of this research is to identify existing or new laboratory and field testing procedures that are predictive of behavior related to extreme events. This data will then be used to develop proposed procedures for designing pavement foundation in anticipation of extreme events and characterizing existing pavement foundation.


Benefits to this proposed research include guidelines for laboratory and field testing for pavement foundation exposed to extreme events and design guidelines for areas potentially exposed to extreme weather events.

Related Research:

Asadi Mojtaba, Soheil Nazarian, Rajib Basu Mallick, and Cesar Tirado. 2020. Computational Process for Quantifying the Impact of Flooding on Remaining Life of Flexible Pavement Structures. Journal of Transportation Engineering, Part B: Pavements. ASCE, https://doi.org/10.1061/JPEODX.0000219.

Mohamed Elshaer, Majid Ghayoomi, & Jo Sias Daniel. 2019. Impact of subsurface water on structural performance of inundated flexible pavements. International Journal of Pavement Engineering, 20:8, 947-957, DOI: 10.1080/10298436.2017.1366767.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 2: Climate Change, Extreme Weather Events, and the Highway System: Practitioner's Guide and Research Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/22473.


The research tasks must include the following:

  1. Create database of field data of pavement foundation subjected to extreme events: modulus, strength, compressibility, and related information. Note: Extreme events should include flooding at a minimum, however, other events included could be changed freeze/thaw cycles, wildfires, etc.

  2. Identify new/existing field and laboratory testing procedures to predict performance of pavement foundation subjected to extreme events.

  3. Identify and select instrumented field testing sections.

Develop procedures to design pavement foundation that can withstand extreme events. Procedures should provide a guide and/or case study to demonstrate how practitioners can identify and remediate problems.


Departments of Transportation and other infrastructure owners (such as FHWA Federal Lands) can immediately benefit from the work, improving training guides and educational materials.

Any insights from the work can also be immediately used to improve policy and procedures and/or focus new and additional research efforts.


Index Terms: Stabilized soils, stabilized materials, base, subbase, subgrade (pavements), pavement foundation, pavement design, pavement performance, pavements, nondestructive tests, compressive strength, flexural strength, tensile strength, cementitious material, chemical stabilization, resilient modulus, extreme events, flooding, instrumentation

Sponsoring Committee:AKG90, Stabilization of Geomaterials and Recycled Materials
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Bob Parsons, Wayne Lee, Halil Ceylan, Imran M. Syed, Xingwei Chen, Javier Castaneda, Soheil Nazarian, Mohammed Mulla
Date Posted:07/22/2022
Date Modified:07/26/2022
Index Terms:Floods, Subgrade (Pavements), Foundation soils, Surface temperature, Soil stabilization, Pavements,
Cosponsoring Committees:AKG30, Geo-Environmental and Climatic Impacts on Geomaterials; AKG40, Mechanics and Drainage of Saturated and Unsaturated Geomaterials; AKG50, Transportation Earthworks; AKG60, Geotechnical Instrumentation and Modeling; AKM80, Aggregates
Maintenance and Preservation

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