Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Civil Engineering


Civil Engineering

Major Advisor

Debakanta Mishra, Ph.D.

Major Advisor

Bhasker Chittoori, Ph.D.


Arvin Farid, Ph.D.


Expansive soils present significant engineering challenges, with annual costs associated with repairing structures constructed over expansive soils estimated to run into several billion dollars. Volume changes in expansive soil deposits induced by fluctuations in the moisture content can result in severe damage to overlying structures. A flexible pavement section near the Western Border of Idaho has experienced recurrent damage due to volume changes in the underlying expansive soil layer; traditional stabilization methods have provided partial success over the years. The main objective of this research effort was to characterize the problematic soil layer contributing to the recurrent pavement damage and propose suitable rehabilitation alternatives.

An extensive laboratory test matrix was carried out to characterize soil samples collected from underneath the problematic pavement section. Laboratory tests showed that the problematic expansive soil deposit was often at depths greater than 6 ft. (183 cm) from the pavement surface. Potential Vertical Rise (PVR) values calculated for ten boreholes strategically placed along the problematic pavement section closely matched with the surface roughness profile observed in the field. Liquidity Index (LI) calculations indicated that the active-zone extended to a depth of least 11 ft. (335 cm) from the pavement surface, and therefore, most of the heaving likely originates from soil layers as deep as 11 ft. (335 cm) from the pavement surface. Clay mineralogy tests indicated the presence of high amounts of Montmorillonite that can lead to significant volume changes. Moreover, high sulfate contents were detected in soil samples obtained from several of the boreholes, indicating a potential for sulfate-induced heaving upon chemical stabilization using calcium-based stabilizers. Based on findings from the laboratory testing, it was concluded that chemical stabilization or shallow treatment alternatives are not likely to be successful in mitigating the recurrent differential heave problems.

A mechanical stabilization approach using geocells was proposed as a likely rehabilitation alternative for this pavement section. By dissipating the heave-induced stresses over a wider area, this reinforcement configuration was hypothesized to significantly reduce the differential heave. Finite-element models of the pavement section comprising six alternative geocell-reinforced configurations were prepared using the commercially available package, ABAQUS®. Moisture swelling and suction properties for the expansive soil deposit were established in the laboratory and were used in the numerical model to simulate the swelling behavior. Results from the numerical modeling effort established that placing two layers of geocell within the unbound granular base layer led to the highest reduction (~60%) in the differential heave. Placing a single layer of geocell, on the other hand, reduced the differential heave magnitude by approximately 50%. A single layer of geocell was therefore recommended for implementation to achieve the optimal balance between pavement performance and construction costs.