Predicting Soil Loss on Highway Systems Based on a Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) Specific to Highway Site Conditions

Focus Area

Construction and Maintenance Practices


Environmental Process, Natural Resources







Research Idea Scope

Problem Statement:
Currently there is no basic methodology to predict soil loss or recommend erosion and sediment control measures specifically for highway projects. Lack of a methodology impairs the ability of DOT’s to meet the requirements of environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

The RUSLE is an agriculturally based soil loss prediction tool modified for construction sites. The Highway version of the RUSLE (HUSLE) is needed to fill a big void in the way DOT’s determine erosion control recommendations for highway construction. It would serve as the basis for deciding erosion control treatments based on site-specific environmental conditions in the highway environment. The Department would benefit from having a tool that can be used by designers to help in developing erosion control recommendations that will stand up to legal scrutiny. Potential savings would be from informed decision-making during development of erosion control recommendations. Designers with little or no background will not specify costly treatments that may not work. Also, savings would be gained from “doing it right the first time” and preventing re-applications and costly change orders. Better decision-making will help prevent water quality violations and potential construction shut downs. Using a tool to speed up erosion control decision-making would help reduce overall project design time particularly for projects that may affect threatened and endangered aquatic species.
Proposed Research:
The research will consist of the following objectives:
  1. Develop and validate for current erosion control technologies a highway specific methodology using a variation of the Universal Soil Loss Equation to predict soil loss from highway slopes and aid in designing erosion control.
  2. Develop a computer-based tool for state DOT personnel to use the HUSLE in highway projects.
Note from TERI Administrator on existing research:

Development of the Highway Erosion Assessment Tool (HEAT) for Evaluation of Roadside Slopes

Presented at: International Erosion Control Association, Conference33, Orlando, Florida, February 25-March 1, 2002 (included in conference proceedings).

Authors: Andrew Sloan, CH2MHILL, Sacramento, CA; Misty Scharff, Caltrans/CSUS Storm Water Program; Mica Hart, CH2MHILL, Redding, CA; Laurel Karren, CH2MHILL, Sacramento, CA; Joel Kimmelshue, CH2MHILL, Redding, CA

Abstract:  This paper describes the development and implementation a procedure used to evaluate the success of vegetated erosion control throughout the state of California. However, evaluating of the success of vegetated roadside erosion control is a difficult task due to the variability among sites, as well as the multitude of factors that may collectively affect soil and

vegetative system stability. To aid in this task, a tool called the Highway Erosion Assessment Tool (HEAT) was developed. HEAT is an end-user software program used for recording, calculating, and summarizing data collected by personnel evaluating the success of vegetated erosion control. Data were collected on-site that related to slope, vegetated coverage, soils, parent material, aspect, and other factors and entered into the program.

Climate data were collected before site evaluations, while predictive models, such as Morgan, Morgan, and Finney, and the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) were used by the program after site visits to help estimate expected soil loss at each site. The program allowed large amounts of both qualitative and quantitative information to be assembled over the short duration (3 months) of the statewide erosion control evaluation, much of which was then analyzed using statistics or other quantitative methods.

Suggested By

2002 Research Needs Conference Idea Harold G. Hunt Division of New Technology and Research California Department of Transportation

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