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Leveraging the Value of Geotechnical Engineering

Geotechnical engineers are civil engineering professionals who evaluate soil, bedrock, and groundwater to identify subsurface conditions that can potentially impact proposed development. Through continued engagement, a geotechnical engineer can bring additional value to projects by providing the designer with recommendations throughout the life of a project.

Soil characteristics can heavily influence the development of construction projects. For that reason, a geotechnical evaluation should be part of the site assessment to reduce potential unidentified site conditions. A geotechnical evaluation is an investigation process that is often one of the first documents prepared for a project. The information gathered includes the footprint of the building, proposed construction elevations, proposed grade changes at the site, configuration of parking and drives, and any unusual design conditions that must be considered. This information is used to prepare an exploration plan with appropriate depths and locations to effectively evaluate all the potential pitfalls that could affect the project. Explorations could identify unfavorable conditions that may require a design modification, or they may confirm the relatively good conditions assumed.

Three phases where geotechnical engineering services add value to the design process:
  1. Planning:

    Engage a geotechnical engineer early on to evaluate the proposed construction and assist in the scope preparation. Conduct a review of the proposed design elements to gain a general idea of the site requirements. Obtain a quality geotechnical evaluation since this can save a project considerable time and expense by providing the design team and contractors with subsurface information and design parameters during the initial design and planning stages.

  2. Design:

    Include the geotechnical engineer during design development and send a copy of the design to them. Since many changes can happen during this stage, it is critical that changes are communicated with the geotechnical engineer who initially prepared the evaluation, so that they can determine if any alterations need to be made to the design. If a change is discovered during construction, an expensive and time-consuming solution can be implemented to keep the project moving, but it is rarely efficient. It is true that additional evaluations will require additional time and fees, but the potential cost savings during construction by using appropriate recommendations are likely to offset these costs.

  3. Construction:

    Keep the geotechnical engineer engaged during the construction process. By keeping them engaged during the construction process, they can observe both excavations and earthwork. Since very little material is actually observed during the exploration phase, the subsurface conditions can be more readily evaluated once the ground is broken and exposed. By keeping the same team engaged throughout the project, this can also help prevent unfortunate oversights.

By keeping your geotechnical engineer engaged with the design team, changes and appropriate recommendations can easily be made during design development. They can also conduct observations during construction to confirm that the conditions are consistent. Leveraging the same geotechnical engineer throughout the duration of a project can bring additional value to the quality and final costs of the project. For more information about geotechnical engineering, please reach out to Wes Dickhut in our Bismarck, North Dakota office.

Wes Dickhut Principal Engineer

P: 701.355.5430