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Pier Construction

Barge-mounted rig driving Z-piling for single-wall braced cofferdam

within which bridge pier will be constructed. Completed twin doublepier shafts in background. (Photo courtesy of Illinois Department of



Copyright 1974 John Wiley & Sons

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Pier Shafts, Retaining Walls,

and Abutments

14.1. Pier Shafts

The dimensions of the top of a pier shaft

for a bridge are determined by practical
considerations such as the magnitude of the
bridge-shoe reactions, the distance required
to provide for expansion of the superstructure, and the distance between trusses or
girders. Frequently, the top of the shaft is
provided with a coping or overhang that
extends about 6 in. beyond the edges of the
top of the shaft proper. If the shaft extends
through a body of water, its shape may be
streamlined below high water to prevent
eddy currents and scour.
I n northern latitudes the upstream edge
may be provided with an inclined cutting
edge to lift and break cakes of ice. For the
sake of appearance, a slight batter is sometimes given to the shaft as a whole.
Solid shafts (Fig. 1 4 . 1 ~ )are commonly
used for railroad bridges. The double shaft
(Figs. 14.16 and 14.1~)is often adopted for
highway bridges, although type b is also
common for railroads. The hammer-headed
pier (Fig. 14.Id) is one of several types often
used to avoid skew spans in passing over
existing railroad tracks or highways.
Most modern bridge piers are of reinforced concrete. For protection against the

elements, stone facing is sometimes used

especially near the water line.
Although pier shafts are commonly regarded as part of the substructure of a
bridge, they are not part of the foundation
in the sense that their design requires consideration of the properties of the subsur-

FIGURE14.1. Typical pier shafts for railway and

highway bridges. ( a ) Solid shaft. ( b ) and (c)
Double shafts. ( d ) Hammer-headed shaft.

Copyright 1974 John Wiley & Sons

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14/ Pier Shafts, Retaining Walls, and Abutments

face materials. Therefore, they will not be

considered further in this text.

14.2. Retaining Walls


A retaining wall is a structure that provides lateral support for a mass of soil and
that owes its stability primarily to its own
weight and to the weight of any soil located
directly above its base. Retaining walls constitute inherent parts of many foundations
and their design is one of the functions of
the foundation engineer.
Before about 1900 retaining walls were
usually constructed of stone masonry. Since
that time concrete, either plain or reinforced, has been the predominant material.
The most common types in current use are
gravity, semigravity, cantilever, counterfort,
and crib walls.
The gravity wall (Fig. 14.2~)depends for
its stability entirely on the weight of the
stone or concrete masonry and of any soil
resting on the masonry. No reinforcement is
provided except in concrete walls, where a

nominal amount of steel is placed near the

exposed faces to prevent surface cracking
due to temperature changes.
The semigravity wall (Fig. 14.2b) is somewhat more slender than a gravity wall and
requires reinforcement consisting of vertical
bars along the inner face and dowels continuing into the footing. I t likewise is provided with temperature steel near the exposed face.
The cantilever wall (Fig. 14.2~)consists of a
concrete stem and a concrete base slab,
both relatively thin and fully reinforced to
resist the moments and shears to which they
are subjected.
The counterfort wall (Fig. 14.2d) consists of
a thin concrete face slab, usually vertical,
supported at intervals on the inner side by
vertical slabs or counterforts that meet the
face slab at right angles. Both the face slab
and the counterforts are connected to a
base slab, and the space above the base slab
and between the counterforts is backfilled
with soil. All the slabs are fully reinforced.

FIGURE14.2. Types of retaining walls. ( u ) Gravity section. ( b ) Semigravity

section. (c) Cantilever section. ( d ) counterfort wall. (e) Crib wall.

Copyright 1974 John Wiley & Sons

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conditions at the site permit its use. The

drain consists of a perforated pipe having
a diameter not less than 6 in. T h e pipe,
which must be surrounded by a filter,
usually terminates a t an open ditch where
it should be accessible for cleaning.
The character of the material used for
backfill has an important influence on the
forces acting against the innei face of a retaining wall. Clean sands and gravels are
considered superior to all other soils because they are free draining, are not susceptible to frost action, and do not become less stable with the passing of time.
Silty sands, silts, or granular soils containing a small percentage of clay are less desirable because they cannot be drained
readily, are likely to be subject to frost action, and may experience a decrease of
shearing strength with accumulation of
moisture. Clays are undesirable as backfill
because they can hardly be drained, are
likely to experience alternate swelling and
shrinking with the seasons, and may lose
much of their shearing strength if moisture
accumulates. If shrinkage cracks in a clay
backfill become filled with rainwater, the
wall may be subjected to full hydrostatic
pressure as well as earth pressure, even if
drains have been provided. Wherever possible, it is considered good practice to insert
a wedge-shaped body of free-draining material between the wall and a clay backfill,
as shown in Fig. 1 4 . 2 ~ .


The preceding four types are known as

monolithic wulls, in contrast to crib walls (Fig.
14.2c), which consist of individual structural units assembled at the site into a series
of hollow bottomless cells known as cribs.
T h e cribs are filled with soil, and their stability depends not only on the weight of the
units and their filling, but also on the
strength of the soil used for the filling. T h e
units themselves may consist of reinforced
concrete, fabricated metal, or timber.
Of the monolithic types, those most commonly constructed today are the cantilever
and the semigravity. Cantilever walls generally have the advantage of lowest first cost
and are widely used in connection with
buildings and highways. However, because
of the relatively small thickness of the concrete sections they may be vulnerable to the
effects of freezing and thawing, expansion
and contraction, and concrete deterioration.
Therefore, where permanence and low
maintenance costs are primary considerations, as for railroad structures, the thicker
semigravity walls are sometimes considered
All retaining walls are expected to withstand the pressure of the earth that they
support, but they are not usually designed
to resist water pressure in addition to the
earth pressure. Therefore, well-designed retaining walls are provided with means for
draining the water that would otherwise
accumulate in the backfill. The drains commonly consist of pipes known as weepholes
(Fig. 14.20)) which have a diameter of 6 or
8 in. and which extend through the stem of
the wall and are protected against clogging
by pockets of gravel in the backfill. The
drains should be spaced a t about 10 ft both
vertically and horizontally; in counterfort
walls there should be at least one drain in
each pocket between adjacent counterforts.
Weepholes are not highly efficient in
draining semipervious backfills. Unless the
pockets of gravel satisfy the requirements for
a filter (Art. 2.5), they are likely to become
clogged. In freezing weather the outlets may
become obstructed with ice. For these reasons, a continuous buck druin (Fig. 14.2~)is
considered preferable when the physical

Copyright 1974 John Wiley & Sons


14.3. Abutments

An abutment serves two principal functions. I t supports the end of a bridge span,
and it provides at least some lateral support
for the soil or rock on which the roadway
rests immediately adjacent to the bridge,
Hence, an abutment combines the functions
of a pier shaft and a retaining wall.
One of the most common types of abutment is shown in Fig. 1 4 . 3 ~I. t consists of a
central pier supporting the bridge seat, and
two wing walls to retain the fill. All three
elements rest on a single footing. If the wing
walls are at right angles to the pier, the
structure is known as a U abutment (Fig.
14.36). T h e wing walls of a U abutment are

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14/ Pier Shafts, Retaining Walls, and Abutments



FIGURE14.3. Types of abutments. (u) Typical gravity abutment with wing

walls. (b) U abutment. ( c ) Spill-through abutment. (d) Pile-bent abutment
with stub wings.

sometimes tied together to reduce their

tendency to overturn.
The spill-through or open abutment (Fig.
14.3~)is also widely used. I t consists of two
or more vertical columns carrying a beam
that supports the bridge seat. The fill extends on its natural slope from the bottom
of the beam through the openings between
the columns. In its extreme form a spillthrough abutment is no more than a row of
piles driven through the fill and supporting
a bridge seat (Fig. 14.3d). The bridge seat
is usually provided with small wings to keep
the bridge shoes free of soil. Another common variation is a simple pier with small
wings near the top. The fill in this case spills
around the abutment.

Copyright 1974 John Wiley & Sons


A survey of factors leading to the failure

or excessive movements of retaining walls
and abutments is reported by R. B. Peck,
H. 0. Ireland, and C. Y. Teng (1948), A
Study of Retaining Wall Failures, Proc.
2nd Znt. Conf. Soil Mcch., Rotterdam, 3, 296299. The importance of drainage and proper
backfilling procedures is emphasized in a
nontechnical note intended for field inspectors: R. B. Peck and H. 0. Ireland
(1957), Backfill Guide. ASCE J. Strut.
Div., 83, ST4, 10 pp.

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