503 Excavation for Structures

Cofferdams and Excavation Bracing (503.03)

The Contractor may elect to use whatever materials or methods he considers necessary to accomplish this item unless specific details are required by the plans.  Many times when sheeting is installed into streambeds, the streambeds consist of sand or gravel.  Sand and gravel are pervious materials and will allow water to flow through them.  If this condition exists, water can flow under the sheets and come up through the bottom of the cofferdam.  This can loosen the soil in the bottom of the cofferdam and cause it to be very soft and unstable.  It can also result in water coming up through any freshly-placed concrete.  If this situation exists, the Contractor should take measures to prevent the flow of water up through the bottom of the cofferdam.  These measures can consist of driving the sheet piling deep enough to cut off the flow of water or placing a concrete seal in the bottom of the cofferdam prior to pumping out the water.  If additional measures are required, they are considered to be part of the cofferdams and excavation bracing item and no additional compensation should be allowed for these items.

In order to qualify as cofferdams and excavation bracing for a particular substructure unit, the Contractor must perform work to protect and maintain the excavation at that particular substructure unit. This work can include pumping out water, installing cribs or sheeting, sloping the sides of the excavation, or building an earthen cofferdam.

Unclassified Excavation

This item may include bedrock and may require the removal of all materials necessary for the construction of structures according to plan.  It also includes subsequent backfill and disposal of excavated material.


Sides of excavation should be protected from caving.  If side failure occurs, the disturbed soil should be removed and replaced with properly compacted soil.  The sides must not be laid back to the extent where the slope will endanger the stability of adjacent foundations.  The stability of the slopes needs to be determined by a competent person on the Contractor’s staff.  

Undercut for Spread Footings

When footings are not on piling, any material undercut, disturbed below plan, or authorized elevation must be replaced with concrete at the Contractor’s expense.  If the excavation is allowed to remain exposed for a considerable period of time, and the material becomes unsuitable, it must be removed and replaced with concrete at the Contractor’s expense.  The additional concrete may be placed with the footing concrete; however, the footing reinforcing steel must be located at the elevation indicated on the plans. 

Many Contractors will place gravel in the bottom of the excavation to assist in dewatering and to provide a better work surface for the workers.  This is unacceptable as any over excavation of spread footing subgrades must be replaced with concrete, not gravel.

Undercut for Pile Foundations

When footings are supported on piling, any material undercut or disturbed must be replaced with properly compacted material.  If the bottom of the excavation becomes muddy, the Contractor may remove the muddy soil and replace it with suitable granular material.


When the cofferdam and excavation bracing item is not provided, drainage outside the forms and pumping necessary to keep the surface suitable for placement of concrete are included in the excavation item.

Rock Excavation

This item includes removal and disposal of material that, in the opinion of the Engineer, is rock or durable shale.  Shale that is removed by the same methods and comparative effort as soil should be classified as nondurable shale.


Rock or durable shale may be removed by whatever methods the Contractor chooses.  These usually are blasting, jack hammering, or ripping.  Note the option to excavate by blasting may be excluded due to the close proximity of existing facilities.  It is desirable to have rock excavation below the tops of footings and as near to the sides of the footings as practical.

Qualifications for Payment

To qualify for payment as rock excavation, the Engineer must determine that the excavated material is indeed rock or durable shale.  In addition, all of the rock excavation below the footing top must be filled with concrete.  Rock excavation performed above the top of footing may be to any width; however, payment above, as well as below the top of footing, is to the plan dimensions of the footing only.

Elevation Changes

In the event bedrock is encountered over 1 foot (0.3 m) higher than indicated by the borings, or bedrock is not encountered at plan elevation, report the findings to the District Construction Administrator for consideration of a change in elevation of the footing.  A plan note will usually be provided indicating when raising the footing can begin.  When bedrock is not encountered at footing elevation, an investigation of the soil should be made as deep as practical.  Hand augers or probes are recommended for initial investigation.

Generally, when bedrock is found less than 1 foot (0.3 m) lower than plan elevation, the additional height of pier or abutment can be provided by additional footing concrete; however, reinforcement should be placed at plan elevation.

When bedrock is found 1 foot (0.3 m) or more below plan elevation, consideration should be given to lengthening the pier or abutment above the footing.

Relative costs should be investigated in either case, and if the cost difference is significant, should be reported to the District Construction Administrator for review.


Approval of Foundations (503.06)

When the foundations for a bridge are spread footings, they are designed to be supported on soil or bedrock as indicated by the soil borings.  The Engineer must examine the soil or bedrock encountered at plan elevation for agreement with soil boring data and to ensure that it will provide the intended bearing capacity.  This bearing capacity will be listed in tons per square foot (tonnes per sq. meter) in the plan notes.  Consult the District Geotechnical Engineer or Office of Geotechnical Engineering with any questions.

Questionable Support

The District Geotechnical Engineer or Office of Geotechnical Engineering should be consulted whenever there is doubt that the material encountered at plan elevation will provide the necessary bearing capacity.  Whenever the material encountered is different, and of lesser quality than indicated by the borings, an investigation similar to that described in the section titled, Elevation Changes, should be made and the findings reported to the District Geotechnical Engineer for review.

Cold Weather Excavation

Footings placed on pile foundations that were exposed to temperatures below freezing sometimes settle during the setting of the concrete and result in unsatisfactory footings.  Therefore, it is imperative that soil in such cases be free from frost, and if disturbed by freezing, compacted to proper density.


When excavation for footings is performed, and freezing temperatures are expected during the time it is exposed, insulation such as an adequate thickness of straw is recommended for protection from frost.


When the excavated area has become frozen, and the area is heated in an enclosure, the effect of the supplied heat on the frozen soil is slight, and a thorough examination for complete removal of frost is required.  Satisfactory temperatures found in spot checks of soil where frost may have penetrated are an indication of frost removal.

When frozen soil is thawed out, it requires re-compaction since frost heaving has lessened the density.  If reinforcing steel has been placed in a footing area at the time the soil was frozen, it will be necessary for the Contractor to remove the reinforcing steel prior to re-compacting the soil.


Backfill (503.08)

The backfill material behind the abutments and beneath the approach slabs shall conform to Item 203 Granular Material Type B. The use of this material should facilitate compaction and help alleviate the settlement of the approach slab.


Method of Measurement (503.09)

Measurement of Excavation Prior to Altering the Original Ground Line

When the plans do not require the original ground line to be altered by removal of the embankment, and when structural excavation is performed prior to building an embankment, elevations or measurements that establish the elevation of the original ground must be made.  Measurements made and recorded from the Contractor’s footing grade stakes can be used to establish the elevation of the original ground.

Measurement of Excavation Made After Altering the Original Ground Line

When the original ground is altered by removal or construction of an embankment prior to excavation, use the plan line of the excavation or embankment items for top boundary of excavation.

Verification of Footing Elevation

The bottom elevation of the footing is to be as shown in the plans.  This elevation is to be verified by subtracting the total verified height of the substructure unit below the beam seat from the beam seat elevation.


Documentation Requirements - 503 Excavation for Structures

1.      Verify existing ground elevations.

2.      Verify that Contractor excavated to plan dimensions.

3.      Make sure that the volume of the existing structure is deducted from the pay quantity for unclassified excavation.

4.      Compaction of backfill documented on CA-EW-5 Form.

Dispose of excavated material not needed or unsuitable per 105.16 and 105.17.  Note: In recent years this item has been bid as a lump sum.  Numbers one and two still apply.