What Is Embankment in Construction? Essential Guide and Materials

June 12, 2024

Embankments play a crucial role in various construction projects, serving as raised structures made from compacted earth materials to elevate roadways, railways, and other infrastructure above the natural ground level. The primary materials used in embankment construction include soil, aggregates, rock, and sometimes crushed paving material.

Materials Used in Embankment Construction


Soils are the most commonly used material for embankments. Granular soils, such as sand and gravel, are preferred due to their excellent compaction properties. Finely sized soils, like silt and clay, are less desirable, while saturated clays and highly organic soils are unsuitable for embankments. The soil used must be well-graded, well-compacted, within an appropriate moisture range, and free from deleterious materials such as roots, stumps, sludge, and trash.

Oversize Materials

Oversize materials, such as rocks, large stones, reclaimed paving, and air-cooled slags, are used primarily in the base construction of embankments. These materials need to be strong, have a range of sizes, and should partially fill the voids within the earth structure for added stability.

"Highway 1 on-ramp and embankment on-going construction - Lower Lynn Project" by TranBC is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

Key Material Properties and Testing Methods


Well-graded mixtures of granular and fine soils are ideal for embankments. The maximum particle size should be less than 100 mm to ensure ease of compaction and stability. ASTM D422 and ASTM D136 are standard test methods used to determine soil gradation.

Unit Weight and Specific Gravity

The unit weight and specific gravity of materials used in embankments can vary widely. Lower unit weight materials transmit less load to the underlying support, enhancing the stability of the structure. Relevant test methods include ASTM D29, ASTM D854, ASTM D2049, ASTM D4253, and ASTM D4254.

"BC Highway 1 - Chase West -Embankment Construction" by TranBC is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

Moisture-Density Characteristics

Moisture-density characteristics are critical for ensuring the performance of an embankment. Compacted fill must meet specific density and moisture criteria, typically 95% of maximum dry density and within 3% of optimum moisture. Standard tests such as ASTM D698 (standard) and ASTM D1557 (modified) are used for measurement.

Shear Strength

Shear strength is an indicator of a material's load-supporting ability, determined through triaxial compression or direct shear tests (ASTM D2850, ASTM D3080, ASTM D4767). This property is vital for assessing the stability of embankment slopes.


Compressibility relates to the consolidation and settlement of the material under long-term loading, determined by one-dimensional consolidation tests (ASTM D2435, ASTM D4186, ASTM D4546). Proper assessment helps in predicting and mitigating settlement issues.

"Embankment construction at Winnie Creek" by TranBC is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

Bearing Capacity

The bearing capacity of embankment materials reflects their ability to support loads without causing structural damage. Laboratory and field load tests (ASTM D1883, ASTM D4429) help in determining this property, ensuring the stability of the constructed embankment.

Permeability and Corrosion Resistance

Permeability measures the material's ability to transmit water, crucial for drainage capacity. ASTM D2434 is the standard test method for permeability. Corrosion resistance is essential for materials in contact with concrete or metal structures, tested using ASTM G51, ASTM G57, and ASTM D4542.

Construction Process and Quality Control

The construction process of an embankment involves several steps, starting with the removal of existing obstacles and cleaning the area. The boundaries are marked with pegs, and the ground is prepared through layering and compaction. Water management ensures optimal moisture content, and compaction testing verifies the required density. Quality control is maintained through regular testing and adherence to specified standards, such as those by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH).

Heavy Machinery and Survey Instruments

Construction requires various types of heavy machinery, including hydraulic excavators, motor graders, bulldozers, dump trucks, vibratory and soil compactors, water tankers, and tractors. Survey instruments are crucial for ensuring precision in embankment construction.

By following these guidelines and employing rigorous testing methods, construction teams can build durable and stable embankments, essential for modern infrastructure development.

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