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Evaluation of Resilient Modulus and Modulus of Subgrade

Reaction for Florida Pavement Subgrades


W. Virgil Ping1, Biqing Sheng2
1

Corresponding Author, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, FAMU-FSU College of
Engineering, Florida State University, 2525 Pottsdamer Street, Tallahassee, FL 32310, USA; ping@eng.fsu.edu, 1850-410-6129 (phone), 1-850-410-6142 (FAX)
2
Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, FAMU-FSU College of
Engineering, Florida State University, 2525 Pottsdamer Street, Tallahassee, FL 32310, USA; shengbi@eng.fsu.edu,
1-850-410-6131 (phone), 1-850-410-6142 (FAX)

ABSTRACT: The performance of subgrade generally depends on its load bearing capacity,
which can be determined by the resilient modulus and the modulus of subgrade reaction.
AASHTO pavement design guide (1993) suggested a theoretical relationship between modulus
of subgrade reaction and resilient modulus of subgrade based on the assumption that the
subgrade material is linear elastic, which was not evaluated by experimental work. This paper
presents an experimental study to evaluate the load-deformation and resilient modulus
characteristics of the granular subgrade soils using field and laboratory tests. An extensive field
static plate bearing load testing program was conducted to evaluate the in-situ bearing
characteristics of typical Florida pavement subgrade soils. In addition, laboratory cyclic triaxial
tests were performed to evaluate the resilient modulus characteristics of the subgrade materials.
Based on the experimental results, correlation relationships were developed between the
subgrade soil resilient modulus and the modulus of subgrade reaction to calibrate the AASHTO
theoretical relationship. It was found that the calibrated relationship was close to the AASHTO
theoretical relationship with a difference around 10%.
INTRODUCTION
Subgrade materials are typically characterized by their resistance to deformation under load,
which can be either a measure of their strength or stiffness. A basic subgrade stiffness/strength
characterization is resilient modulus (MR). Resilient modulus is a measurement of the elastic
property of soil recognizing certain nonlinear characteristics, and is defined as the ratio of the
axial deviator stress to the recoverable axial strain. Both the AASHTO 1993 Guide for Design of
Pavement Structures (AASHTO, 1993) and the mechanistic based design methods (AASHTO,
2008) use the resilient modulus of each layer in the design process. The modulus of subgrade
reaction (k) is a required parameter for the design of rigid pavements. It estimates the support of
the layers below a rigid pavement surface course. The modulus of subgrade reaction is
determined from field plate bearing load tests (Huang, 1993). However, the field plate bearing
load test is elaborate and time-consuming. Recently, resilient modulus has been commonly
applied for both flexible and rigid pavement in the design guide (AASHTO, 1993). Therefore, it
is necessary to develop a relationship between the modulus of subgrade reaction (k) and the
subgrade soil resilient modulus (MR). This allows the designer to treat the seasonal variation of
the subgrade soil k-value by simply converting the same seasonal resilient modulus that would
be used for flexible pavement design.

In Florida, several major research studies in the past years have been conducted to evaluate the
resilient modulus characteristics of Florida pavement soils (Ping et al., 2000; Ping et al., 2001;
Ping et al., 2001; Ping et al., 2002; Ping et al., 2008). An extensive field static plate bearing load
testing program was performed on selected field pavement sites to evaluate the bearing
characteristics of pavement subgrade soils (Ping et al., 2002). A laboratory triaxial testing
program was carried out to evaluate the resilient modulus of subgrade materials. Recently,
comparative studies were conducted between the resilient modulus and modulus of subgrade
reaction for Florida subgrade soils (Ping and Sheng, 2011). Calibrated correlation relationships
were developed from experimental results.
This paper presents a series of characterization effort of the subgrade modulus from the
laboratory cyclic triaxial test and field experimental studies such as field plate bearing load test.
The subgrade soil resilient modulus and the modulus of subgrade reaction (k) using field
measured experimental results were evaluated. The details could be found elsewhere (Ping et al.,
2000; Ping et al., 2001; Ping et al., 2008). The experimental programs are described briefly as
follows.
EXPERIMENTAL PROGRAMS
An extensive field static plate bearing load testing program was carried out to evaluate the in-situ
bearing characteristics of pavement base, subbase, and subgrade soils (Ping et al., 2001; Ping et
al., 2002). Typical granular subgrade soils were excavated from the field test sites and obtained
for laboratory resilient modulus evaluation. In conjunction with the field experimental programs,
a laboratory triaxial testing program was performed to evaluate the resilient modulus
characteristics of the subgrade materials.
Field Static Plate Bearing Load Test
A series of tests were conducted on selected field flexible pavement sites around Florida (Ping et
al., 2000; Ping et al., 2002). The sites were evenly scattered within the state to better represent
different soil conditions in Florida. Granular materials (A-3 and A-2-4 soils) were most
commonly encountered as roadbed in Florida. Thus, only the granular soils were analyzed in the
field study.
The plate bearing load test procedures employed may vary somewhat, depending on the adoptive
agencies, but the method is generally in close agreement with ASTM D 1196 (ASTM, 2004). In
Florida, the plate load test is designated as FM 5-527 in the Manual of Florida Sampling and
Testing Methods (FDOT, 2000). At each site, the asphalt concrete structural layer was cut and
removed. For each layer of the pavement beneath the asphalt concrete, including the base,
subbase (stabilized subgrade), and subgrade (embankment), the in-situ moisture content and
density were measured using a nuclear gauge device. Representative bag samples of each layer
were taken for future testing of resilient modulus in the laboratory. The plate bearing load test
was conducted on the subgrade (embankment) layer. A 305 mm (12 in.) diameter circular steel
plate was used for applying the load (ACI, 2006). A schematic illustration of the test setup is
shown in Figure 1. After completion of the plate bearing load test program, the subgrade soil
layer was excavated up to more than 1 m below the tested stratum to check the layer

homogeneity. All soil materials were reconstituted in the laboratory to the in-situ moisture and
density conditions for the resilient modulus test.

Figure 1. Field Plate Bearing Load Test


Laboratory Triaxial Test
The triaxial test setup is shown in Figure 2. Both T292-91I (AASHTO, 1991) and T307-99 test
(AASHTO, 2003) methods were adopted for preparing and testing untreated subgrade materials
for the determination of resilient modulus. At least two duplicate resilient modulus tests were
conducted on each type of soil. The differences between most of the two replicate tests were
within about 5 percent (Ping and Ge, 1997). Thus, the resilient modulus test was repeatable.

Figure 2. Schematic of Triaxial Cell for Resilient Modulus Measurement


ANALYSIS OF EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS
Field Experimental Results
The field experimental program was conducted to evaluate the supporting characteristics of in
situ pavement layers. The plate bearing load test results were calibrated by using secant modulus
concept (Ping et al., 2000; Ping et al., 2002). In the field testing program the number of load

applications, the angle of internal friction, and the geometry of the bearing plate are constant.
Based on this information, after analyzing the data obtained from the field plate load test, a twoconstant hyperbolic model was proposed to represent the relation of the load-deformation as
follows (Ping et al., 2002):

(1)
P
a b
where P = load,
= deflection, and
a, b = constants.
The representation of the load-deflection curve is illustrated in Figure 3. It was found that the
hyperbolic models have good agreements with the experimental curve.

asymptote

Load, P

Pult

Ei

Esec(at P = Pult/2)

P = /(a+b)
1/b

Pult/2

tan = 1/a

Deformation,

Figure 3. Rectangular Hyperbolic Representation of Load-Deflection Curve


Modulus of subgrade reaction k is defined as the following equation:

(2)

where k = modulus of subgrade reaction,


0 = pressure applied to the surface of the plate, and
= deflection of the plate.

The k values were calculated with 0 = 10 psi (68.9 kPa) on 12 in. diameter plate. The detailed
calculation may be found elsewhere (Ping and Sheng, 2011).
Laboratory Triaxial Test Results
The resilient modulus (Mr or MR) was calculated from the load and deformation using the
following equation:

Mr
where d = axial deviator stress, and

d
R

(3)

R = axial resilient strain.


For granular soils, the resilient modulus Mr is commonly expressed by the following regression
models to show the variation of the Mr versus the bulk stress () and confining pressure (3):

M r = k 1 k 2

M r = k3 3

k4

(4)
(5)

where = sum of the principal stresses, (1 + 2 + 3),


3 = confining pressure, and
k1, k2, k3, k4 = regression constants.
In actual field conditions, the confining pressure at subgrade layers was found to be
approximately 13.8 kPa (2.0 psi). Because the laboratory resilient modulus is stress dependent, a
constant stress level has to be determined in selecting the resilient modulus of roadbed soils for
pavement design. In a laboratory resilient modulus test, the resilient modulus value obtained at a
deviator stress of 34.5 kPa (5.0 psi) under the confining pressure 13.8 kPa (2.0 psi) was
considered representative of the in-situ subgrade modulus (Ping et al., 2001). The subgrade
resilient modulus was then obtained from the bulk stress of 75.8 kPa (11.0 psi) at different
moisture conditions.
DISCUSSIONS ON RESILIENT MODULUS AND MODULUS OF SUBGRADE
REACTION
A theoretical relationship between the k-value and resilient modulus was developed in the
Appendix HH of the AASHTO design guide (AASHTO, 1993), which is as follows:
k (pci)

M R (psi)
19.4

(6)

It should be noted that this theoretical relationship was developed based on the assumption that
the roadbed material is linear elastic. The elastic layer theory and equation provide the basis for
establishing the relationship. Some other relationships based on the Long Term Pavement
Performance (LTPP) database were established in the Mechanistic-Empirical Pavement Design
Guide (M-EPDG) (AASHTO, 2008) and elsewhere (Setiadji and Fwa, 2009; Khazanovich et al.,
2001).
It is usually impractical to conduct plate bearing load tests in the field on representative subgrade
soils for design projects. Thus, it is necessary to develop a relationship between the modulus of
subgrade reaction (k) and the roadbed soil resilient modulus (MR). This allows the designer to
obtain the k value by simply converting the soil resilient modulus. By changing the units of M R
and k to MPa and MPa/m, Equation (6) becomes the following:

k measured 2.028M R

(7)

Equation (7) was based on the definition of k using a 30 in. (762 mm) diameter plate. The
deflection of a plate on a solid foundation can be determined by the following equation (Huang,
1993):

(1 v 2 )qa
2M R

(8)

where q = applied pressure, 10 psi;


v = Poissons ratio;
a = radius of the plate; and
MR = resilient modulus.
The modulus of subgrade reaction, which is defined as the ratio between an applied pressure q
and the deflection , can be expressed as:

2M R
q

(1 v 2 )a

(9)

It can be found that the modulus of subgrade reaction k is inversely proportional to the diameter
of the plate (Huang, 1993)). If v = 0.45 and a = 15 in. (381 mm), then Equation (9) becomes:
k (pci)

M R (psi)
18.8

(10)

Due to the rigid plate restriction of the computer programs, AASHTO re-defined the equation of
modulus of subgrade reaction, which is as follows:

P
V

(11)

where P is the magnitude of the load (in pounds) applied to the 30 in. plate and V is the volume
(in cubic inches) of soil (directly beneath the plate) that is displaced by the load. This is
considered a valid re-definition and allows the rigid loading plate constraint to be relaxed.
Without the rigid plate restriction, an elastic layer computer program was used to predict the
deflected shapes, displaced volumes and k-values under a 30 in. plate for a range of roadbed soil
resilient moduli. Then, Equation (10) becomes Equation (6). However, it is well known that
granular materials and subgrade soils are nonlinear with an elastic modulus varying with the
level of stresses. Therefore, this theoretical relationship needs to be calibrated in order to be
accommodated in the pavement design.
It should be noted that the field experiments were conducted using a plate with diameter of 305
mm (12 in.) in the plate bearing load test. Since the modulus of subgrade reaction k is inversely
proportional to the diameter of the plate, the k-values need to be converted to the values that
resulted when the plate diameter in the plate bearing load test was 762 mm (30 in.). The

comparisons between laboratory resilient modulus and modulus of subgrade reaction for
subgrade soils were made and the relationship is shown as follows:

or

k (MPa/m) 2.25 M R (MPa)

(12)

k (pci) M R (psi) / 17.5


2.25 2.03
%difference
11%
2.03

(13)
(14)

As shown in Equation (14), it appears that the correlation relationship obtained from the
experimental results is close to the theoretical relationship with a difference about 11 percent,
This calibrated correlation relationship could be utilized in the Florida
which is reasonable.
pavement design guide for obtaining realistic resilient modulus values of Florida subgrade soils
from laboratory measured resilient modulus values.
CONCLUSIONS
Several major field and laboratory experimental studies were conducted in Florida to evaluate
the resilient modulus and load-deformation characteristics of Florida subgrade soils. The resilient
modulus measured in laboratory was compared to the modulus of subgrade reaction (k)
measured from field test to evaluate the AASHTO theoretical relationship. A calibrated linear
relationship was developed to correlate resilient modulus and modulus of subgrade reaction (k).
It was found that the calibrated relationship based on the experimental results was close to the
AASHTO theoretical relationship.
Conducting the soil resilient modulus test in laboratory and selecting an appropriate resilient
modulus value for pavement design are very complex processes. The processes are even more
time-consuming, labor intensive, and costly on conducting in-situ field plate bearing load test
and obtaining field measured k-values. Therefore, the calibrated relationship between the
resilient modulus and modulus of subgrade reaction (k) could be utilized in the Florida pavement
design guide for obtaining realistic subgrade resilient modulus design values from laboratory
resilient modulus measurements.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Funding for this research was provided by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) through the Research Center of the FDOT. The strong
support from the FDOT managers, Bruce Dietrich, David Horhota, Bill Miley, Robert Ho, and
Emmanual Uwaibi, are gratefully acknowledged. Harold Godwin, Rick Venick, and Ron Lewis
with the FDOT State Materials Office conducted the filed plate load tests. Zenghai Yang, Ginger
Ling, Chaohan Zhang, Haitao Liu, and Jian Lan, all former research assistants, performed most
of the laboratory resilient modulus tests. The opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in
this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the sponsors.

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