Performance and Cost Effectiveness of Modular Block Retaining Walls

Open Access
Donahue, Steven J
Graduate Program:
Civil Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
October 26, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Dr Mian Wang, Thesis Advisor
  • performance of segmental retaining walls
  • performance of modular block walls
  • MSE walls
  • mechanically stabilized earth walls
  • masonry block walls
  • SRW
  • segmental retaining walls
  • MBW
  • modular block walls
  • cost effectiveness of modular block walls
  • freeze thaw durability
  • DOT survey
  • modular block wall advantages
  • modular block wall disadvantages
Modular block walls (MBWs), also known as segmental retaining walls (SRWs), continue to be a growing segment of the public retaining wall market. While MBWs have long been popular in the private sector, estimates by the Federal Highway Administration show that MBWs have had a distinct growth over the last ten years in the public sector. Still, many state Departments of Transportation do not permit the use of MBWs based on expectations of poor performance. This thesis presents information obtained from available literature including published papers and reports in regards to cost and performance of MBWs. In addition, a telephone survey was conducted of thirty-two departments of transportation to determine which states utilize modular block walls, how cost effective modular block walls have been, and how they have performed in comparison to more traditional wall types. The effectiveness of new freeze-thaw requirements was evaluated. States not currently using modular block walls revealed their current concerns that discourage these DOTs from utilizing MBWs. Based on the completed analysis and evaluation, advantages and disadvantages of MBWs are presented, and recommendations for successful implementation of MBWs are offered.