Did you know up to 50 percent of major infrastructure projects experience schedule or cost impacts because of geotechnical issues?

Advanced geotechnical methods in exploration (A-GaME) is an expanded approach to site investigation that can reduce risk, optimize site characterization, enhance design reliability, and reduce geo-construction delays and cost escalations. Effective site characterization is critical for recognizing potential problems that may affect design and construction and for ensuring safe, well-performing, and cost-effective projects. A-GaME offers proven, but underused methodologies and practices that transportation agencies can adopt with confidence based on years of successful application that can dramatically reduce the data gap and provide better data to inform decisions.

Recommended A-GaME techniques include: cone penetration testing (CPT), seismic and electrical methods, measurement while drilling (MWD), and using optical and acoustic televiewers. Using these methods can improve an agency’s knowledge of subsurface site conditions, providing time and cost savings through a well-scoped investigation.

Transportation projects typically spend around 1 to 3 percent of their total construction cost on geotechnical subsurface investigations. The data in the graphic below from construction projects in multiple sectors shows the relative likelihood of project cost escalations in relation to how much is spent on geotechnical investigation. Imagine if that one to three percent cost was more wisely spent by targeting reoccurring problems that we can anticipate. Imagine if another percent or two was invested when subsurface conditions were known to be riskier. That is what the A-GaME is about.

Removing Geotechnical Uncertainties: A Good Investment

Graph plotting percent of project cost escalation above award amount vs percentage of project award cost used for site investigation. The relationship shows that as more is invested in site investigation, the cost escalation percentage decreases. Source: NCHRP Synthesis 484 – Influence of Geotechnical Investigation and Subsurface Conditions on Claims, Change Orders, and Overruns.

States have been busy bringing their A-GaME! Montana is making great progress adapting a drill rig for MWD implementation. Several states including Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Alaska are seeing value on a variety of projects using exploration geophysics. Michigan, Vermont, and West Virginia are applying CPT to select projects to improve site characterization and Ohio will be using televiewers to gain insight on an emergency landslide project this month.


The FHWA A-GaME team has a wealth of content to provide virtual peer exchanges, webinars, and web-based training opportunities. A new calendar of events is in development to provide a one-stop location to link to ten upcoming webinars on A-GaME topics. These webinars will take place from November through March. Stay tuned to future editions of EDC News for more information.

We also invite you to watch our spotlight video and orientation webinar to learn more about A-GaME and the techniques it recommends to improve subsurface exploration. Additionally, you can read the Transportation Research Board’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program synthesis, Influence of Geotechnical Investigation and Subsurface Conditions on Claims, Change Orders, and Overruns. The A-GaME team will also conduct several presentations at the Deep Foundation Institute’s 45th annual conference, which will be conducted online.

If you have more questions about these proven, innovative geotechnical methods, please contact Ben Rivers of the FHWA Resource Center or Silas Nichols of the FHWA Office of Infrastructure.

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