Section 9: Geosynthetics in Pavement Structures

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A geosynthetic, according to ASTM (1994) is a planar product manufactured from a polymeric material used with soil, rock, earth, or other geotechnical-related material as an integral part of a civil engineering project, structure, or system. Since ASTM provides this definition, the department has had a number of applications in materials other than the traditional “geo-” applications.

For the purposes of this manual, we will define a geosynthetic as “A manmade material that consists of one or more products used to provide added benefit to the infrastructure.” In this manual, we intend to address only those roadway applications. Applications of geosynthetics for use in other structures are addressed in the Bridge Division’s Geotechnical Manual.

There have been relatively few studies that have offered concrete evidence regarding geosynthetic material performance in the roadway. Although the department has conducted or is a participant in a number of studies, there is plenty of room for improvement in characterizing all geosynthetic materials to quantify their benefit to pavement performance.

Although improper usage or installation has contributed to early failure in some cases, department geosynthetic usage has increased in recent years with good success. Applications have been in asphalt concrete overlays of existing asphalt concrete and hydraulic (Portland) cement concrete surfaces, unbound (flexible) base, soft subgrade, drainage, and encapsulation. Shared terminology exists between these applications; clarification of the terminology will hopefully alleviate the confusion.

This section begins with a description of materials for applications that are most frequently used in the department. Following this, a discussion of the materials frequently used in each application and the expected behavior of the material is presented.

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Description of Materials and Applications

Several materials are available for incorporation into pavement structures. The two geosynthetics primarily used are geotextiles and geogrids. Recently, manufacturers have combined the two materials creating a type of geocomposite (combination of a geosynthetic and another product).


Applications of geosynthetics are typically used by the department within pavement structures. Primarily, there are four applications:

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Pavement Surface Layer Reinforcement

The first application should be separated and not confused with any other application in a pavement structure. This application is specific to hot-mix asphalt concrete.


Geotechnical Reinforcement

As it is used in this manual, refers to pavement layers only inclusive of subgrades and subbases.



Drainage and moisture control are features of the pavement structure, not reinforcements. Their functions are to enhance and lengthen pavement performance by reducing the influence moisture has on pavement materials


Moisture Control


The term geosynthetic is broad and encompasses numerous materials. A geotextile is a permeable geosynthetic made of textile materials; this material has uses in all applications. Numerous other materials may be used in combination with geotextiles to create a geocomposite—including grids, nets, meshes, and webs; these are most frequently used in HMAC but do have applications with soil moisture barriers and even soil erosion blankets.

Geogrids are primarily used for reinforcement and are formed from integrally connected and attached elements creating apertures in which adjoining material embed and are of sufficient size to interlock with it. The reference to geogrid is primarily reserved for the application in unbound bases and subgrades; although, reinforcing grids are available for use in HMAC. Geomembranes are low-permeability geosynthetics used as moisture barriers.

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Geosynthetics for Surface Layer Reinforcement

Geosynthetics used for HMAC applications have been used by the department since the mid-1980s. Since then, there have been numerous products manufactured for various purposes to incorporate in the pavement surfaces. These products are used to:

  • reduce reflective cracking from:
    • existing layers of HMAC or
    • cracks and joints in rigid pavements and
  • resist moisture intrusion into lower pavement layers. Fabric underseal has worked well in some parts of the state when placed on CRCP and overlaid with HMAC.

Department research project 0-1777 investigated the use of several geosynthetics in HMAC. Researchers developed a guidance document, “ Geosynthetic Guidelines,” available on TxDOT's Construction and Materials Tips webpage. This document discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using geosynthetics in HMA applications, guidance on the selection of materials, cost considerations, pavement design, as well as construction considerations.

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Geosynthetics for Geotechnical Reinforcement

Several research projects have been conducted in an attempt to quantify the benefits of geosynthetics in unbound pavement layers. Applications range from a passive use of materials creating a separation between pavement layers to an active role when relying on geosynthetics to take on some of the structure’s load.

Materials most often used in this application are geogrids and geotextiles. Many geosynthetics have multiple uses and can serve more than one function. For instance, geogrids are often used in a way to restrain base material during compaction or loading, but they also serve as a separation layer to prevent excessive migration and intermingling of pavement layers at interfaces.

Ongoing departmental research will attempt to better describe the interaction between pavement layers and geosynthetics used in pavement layers. Additional research on the contribution of geogrid to pavement performance is being conducted in a pooled fund study. As the findings are made available, this section will be updated.

Current usage in Texas has been for both restraint of pavement materials and for separation of materials. The department acknowledges the benefit of geosynthetics in pavement layers; however, there has been insufficient conclusive research to develop guidance with regard to reinforcement of unbound materials in pavement structures at this time. As a result, usage of geosynthetics is limited to separation and restraint and cannot be accounted for in FPS-19W design.


Separation of layers is intuitive. This mechanism places a physical barrier between two materials to prevent them from intermixing. Mixing of fine-grained soil particles into the overlying flexible base can create a significantly finer gradation over time, increasing the base suction properties and greatly decreasing its strength. The result of this placement is to maintain a viable structure for a longer period of time.

Another more recent application, and possibly the most quantifiable, is grid used as both a separator layer and a restraint to base movement. It has been used to prevent or reduce reflective cracking due to differential relative movement between pavement layers. An example of this use is between subgrades (or stabilized materials) with high plasticity index (PIs) that exhibit large volumetric shrinkage when moisture is drawn out due to weather, drainage, or vegetation demands and unbound flexible base. The grid holds the unbound material in a tight matrix allowing the shrinking subgrade (or stabilized material) to move and prevent subgrade cracking from propagating to the pavement surface.


Restraint is the mechanism of preventing or reducing the lateral movement of materials. This application is useful when soft subgrades are present and a platform for subsequent construction is required. Both grid and geotextiles have been used in this application. Grid is more likely to be used and can be very effective. When textiles are used, note that textiles must extend much more than geogrids to provide the same level of support.

A grid may be used for:

  • mitigation of reflective cracking (see mechanism in separation)
  • creation of a working platform on soft subgrades, sacrificial layer to obtain compaction of subsequent layers or
  • a substitute in lieu of lime, e.g., sulfate laden soils, where lime is detrimental, or urban areas, where lime may not be tolerated or combinations of these and soft soils.
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Geosynthetics for Drainage Applications

Among the products used in drainage applications are:

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  • Transmission of moisture to pavement edge.
  • Trench lining to prevent intrusion of fine soil into drainage layers and structure.
  • Wrapping drainage pipe to prevent siltation of the drain.
  • Wrapping aggregate to provide confinement and prevent fine soil intrusion.
  • Silt fencing.
  • Erosion control logs.


  • Moisture barrier for pavement edges.
  • Creation of retention/detention ponds.
  • Encapsulation provision for confining and waterproofing material in the roadbed.


Composite material that provides both a drainage structure and separation with a geotextile.

Vertical Drains

Composite material that transmits water from the roadway, through a geotextile and down to a drainage structure.

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Specifications and Testing

The following table shows the current applicable testing specifications and test procedures used to qualify geosynthetics used in the department.

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Filter Fabric




Vertical Moisture Barrier




Fabric Underseal




Sediment Control Fence








Grid/Fabric Composite for HMAC




Reinforced Fabric Joint Underseal







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