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Two-Lane vehicle underpass using pipe roof method at Sentosa Gateway Tunnel

S.C. Teo, T.G. Ng, I. Yogarajah, K.X. Woon & H.P. Dang

Golder Associates (Singapore) Pte Ltd

ABSTRACT: A 1.3km long vehicular tunnel, Sentosa Gateway Tunnel, was proposed to connect outbound traffic from Sentosa Island directly to major roads to cope with growing traffic in the area. Due to the presence of existing buildings in close proximity and carriageways that could not be diverted, a trenchless construction method known as pipe roof method is adopted for the construction of parts of the Sentosa Gateway Tunnel instead of the conventional cut and cover method. This paper presents the design considerations made and the challenges encountered during the construction of the two-lane piped box tunnel. Finite element analysis is conducted prior to the construction of the vehicular tunnel. The settlement of the pipe roof measured during the mined excavation is discussed and compared with the predicted settlements obtained from finite element anal- ysis.



As part of the measures to improve the traffic conges- tion faced by road users, various solutions are being proposed and implemented by the Government of Singapore. Other than providing an efficient rail pub- lic transportation system, new roads are often planned to lessen the load of existing roads and to diverge the high traffic volume. As Singapore is a highly-devel- oped and densely-populated country, many of the lands are already occupied by existing structures, which may be in the way the proposed new roads. Of- ten, the roads will have to be aligned as flyovers over existing ones, or sometimes, as underground vehicu- lar tunnels. The most typical construction method for under- ground tunnels beneath existing roads involves a combination of staged traffic diversions and cut and cover construction method. Nevertheless, such method is not applicable at all times, mostly due to site limitations such as the presence of existing roads or structures that cannot be diverted or relocated. In such cases, trenchless construction methods such as pipe roof method may be considered. The pipe roof method has been used for several projects in Singapore. Yogarajah et al (1994), Ng et al (2011) and Ng et al (2016) had discussed the appli- cation of this method in several projects carried out in Singapore.

This paper will discuss the construction of a two- lane vehicular underpass using pipe roof method at the Sentosa Gateway Tunnel project in Singapore.




Project Description

Sentosa is an island located to the South of Singa- pore. It has been developed as an island resort and welcomes some twenty million people per year. The gateway to Sentosa is located at an area with very high traffic usage, as a result of several nearby vicin- ities such as Brani Terminal and Keppel Distripark, a large cargo distribution complex, both under Port of Singapore Authority, Vivocity shopping complex and several high-rise residential developments. In order to address this congestion issue and to ca- ter to the projected increase in traffic demand, a new underground vehicular tunnel, known as the Sentosa Gateway Tunnel, has been proposed to bridge the out- going traffic from Sentosa Island directly to major roads which will lead motorists to different parts of Singapore. It will bypass the busy traffic junctions at Sentosa Gateway, Telok Blangah Road and Kampong Bahru Road. The location and layout plan of Sentosa Gateway Tunnel are presented in Figure 1 and Figure 2 respectively.

Figure 1. Location of Sentosa Gateway Tunnel. Figure 2. Layout plan of Sentosa Gateway Tunnel.

Figure 1. Location of Sentosa Gateway Tunnel.

Figure 1. Location of Sentosa Gateway Tunnel. Figure 2. Layout plan of Sentosa Gateway Tunnel. 2.2

Figure 2. Layout plan of Sentosa Gateway Tunnel.

2.2 Pipe Roof Method

A multitude of construction proposals were studied and reviewed to produce a feasible and efficient ex- cavation design while maintaining the robustness of the system and keeping the resulting movements to a minimum. Diaphragm wall supported by multiple layers of steel strutting or concrete slabs was pro- posed for a great part of the tunnel construction, adopting a conventional cut-and-cover method. Diaphragm wall could not be installed for two stretches of the tunnel, due to the presence of several existing structures, namely the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) tunnels underneath, 10m high natural slope to the West, buildings to the East and a network of roads and flyovers with high traffic volume that inhibits the possibility of traffic diversions. These two stretches, one a single-lane underpass and the other, a two-lane underpass, were proposed to be constructed using trenchless construction approach instead. The pipe roof method was selected as the most suitable trench- less construction approach due to the relatively short length required for tunneling and the shallow over- burden pressure. The lengths of these tunnels are ap- proximately 95m, the longest to be constructed in Sin- gapore, to date. The topic of discussion for this paper will be lim- ited to wider of the two piped box tunnel, the two-lane piped box tunnel.




Two-Lane Piped Box Tunnel

The proposed two-lane piped box tunnel (PBT) is 14.5m wide, 9.1m high, 95m long and located ap- proximately 6m beneath existing ground level. It is situated beneath Telok Blangah Road and West Coast Highway Viaduct, amidst a number of services. Crit- ical structures nearest to the tunnel are highlighted in Figure 3.

nearest to the tunnel are highlighted in Figure 3. Figure 3. Two-Lane Piped Box Tunnel and

Figure 3. Two-Lane Piped Box Tunnel and Surroundings.

North-East Line (NEL) tunnels and Circle Line (CCL) overrun tunnel of the existing MRT, are lo- cated about 2m underneath the center of the PBT while existing viaduct columns are present about 10m away, with the distance of the nearest pile to the edge of the PBT being 2.3m. Existing natural slopes higher than 10m are located approximately 10m away to the West of the tunnel location.

3.2 General geology and subsurface condition

In general, the site consists of ~3m layer of sandy silt fill followed by residual soils with increasing SPT N value from N=12 to N>100. Then Jurong Formation sandstone and siltstone of varying weathering grade are encountered below the residual soil from 10m to 20m below ground level. Traces of estuarine clay (E), fluvial clay (F2) and fluvial sand (F1) were recorded at locations South of the tunnel, near the Retrieval Shaft. The total thickness of the Kallang Formation ranges from 3m to 5m. The soil condition can be broadly categorized into stiff soil at the launching shaft end and relatively weaker soil at the retrieval shaft end.

3.3 Construction Sequence

Pipe roofing requires launching and receiving shafts for the operation of the micro tunnel boring machine (TBM) used to install the interlocking steel pipes forming the rectangular tunnel box and as the access for the subsequent excavation and casting processes.

The launching shaft (LS) is proposed at the northern end of the tunnel and pipe installation will commence from this shaft. The retrieval shaft (RS) for the com- pleted pipes is located at the southern end of the tun- nel. Once the rectangular box is formed, stepped-exca- vation is then carried out from both shafts. A 3(V):1(H) slope is formed for each excavation step, immediately protected by 100mm thick of shotcrete. Steel frame set is then installed to support the piped box. Typically, excavation is carried out from a single direction. In order to reduce the construction duration, a two-directional excavation (excavation advancing from both the shafts) was adopted. It was observed from the excavation carried out earlier for the one-lane PBT that, apart from time- consuming, the removal of the steel frames also caused additional movement to the stabilized system. Therefore, the steel frames are improvised to be em- bedded in the concrete lining of the permanent struc- ture. Steel beam depth is reduced from the originally- proposed 900mm series to 600mm series for encase- ment inside the permanent structure. The spacing of the steel frame is reduced correspondingly from 5m apart to 3.5m apart. Figures 4 and 5 shows the typical sequence and sec- tion of the PBT excavation.

the typical sequence and sec- tion of the PBT excavation. Figure 4. Typical Construction Sequence. Figure

Figure 4. Typical Construction Sequence.

the PBT excavation. Figure 4. Typical Construction Sequence. Figure 5. Typical Cross Section. The whole operation

Figure 5. Typical Cross Section.

The whole operation ideally minimizes the impact to surrounding structures and the existing condition at ground level. Each excavation cycle takes about six days.

3.4 Instrumentation monitoring

Real-time inclinometer was proposed to be installed in the roof pipe at the center of the tunnel to monitor and assess the settlement that will occur during the construction works, for both the PBTs. During the one-lane PBT excavation, it was ob- served that, as the horizontal inclinometer exhibits a cumulative settlement based on one fixed datum point, it does not represent the actual behavior of a two-way excavation. Therefore, in the latter excava- tion of the two-lane PBT, a series of prisms spaced at 10m apart was installed in an adjacent pipe to monitor the excavation movement. Figure 6 shows the layout of the prisms along the pipe.

Figure 6 shows the layout of the prisms along the pipe. Figure 6. Prisms installed within

Figure 6. Prisms installed within the pipe to monitor excavation movement.

3.5 Finite Element Modelling

Two-dimensional plane strain analyses were carried out using finite element (FE) method software PLAXIS 2D to model the excavation of the PBT and to predict the ensuing settlement. Elastic perfectly plastic soil material conforming to the Mohr Coulomb failure criteria was applied for all soil types. The typical soil parameters adopted in the analyses are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Soil design parameters.



Strength and Modulus Parameters





c u




kN/m 3

kN/m 2

kN/m 2



















































Groundwater table was modeled at existing ground level. The steel pipe piles were modeled as imperme- able plate elements while the steel frame sets are

modeled using node-to-node anchors akin to a hori- zontal shaft excavation. The PBT is assumed to be impermeable, simulating a dry excavation. The actual 2-step excavation of sloped top heading and bench is combined into a single step of sloped excavation, which resulted in an additional excavation up to 0.5m in accordance with BS8002. The soil layers and FE mesh is presented in Figure 7.

The soil layers and FE mesh is presented in Figure 7. Figure 7. Finite element mesh.

Figure 7. Finite element mesh.




Pipe Roof Settlement Trends

The installation of the pipes forming the tunnel box was carried out from October 2014 to December 2015. Fifty-two numbers of pipes were installed. Ex- cavation commenced in late January 2016 from both shafts and was completed in May 2016, i.e. about 4 months. Figure 8 shows the settlement trends of the pipe roof measured by the prism points. Trends shown in dotted lines are from Prisms No. 10, 1, 2 and 3, used for monitoring of the excavation advancing from the RS. Prisms No. 5 to 9, whose trends are shown in solid lines, are monitoring the relatively-faster exca- vation advancing from the LS. Prism No. 4 is located approximately at the mid-point of the PBT, where both excavations met.

Prism #10
Prism #9
Prism #1
Prism #8
Prism #2
Prism #7
Prism #3
Prism #6
Prism #4
Prism #5

Figure 8. Settlement trends of prisms monitoring the pipe roof.

From Figure 8, it can be surmised that the settle- ment trends recorded by all ten prism points are sim- ilar. All points recorded additional settlement as ex- cavation reached the prisms’ location. The settlements measured for the LS side prisms range from 10mm to 33mm while those of the RS side rec- orded larger settlements, ranging from 34mm to 43mm. The magnitude is largely dependent on the

soil condition at the excavation face, and this obser- vation coincides with the soil information available. The settlement stabilized with the installation of steel frames.

4.2 Pipe Roof Settlement Profiles

Figure 9 shows the pipe roof settlement profiles for different stages of construction. The pipe roof settle- ment increased as excavation advanced from both ends, with larger settlements recorded for the RS end. The settlement profile exhibits an accumulative be- havior. It is also observed that preceding excavation steps brought about some advance settlement. At the RS end, Prism No. 2 breached the Alert Level set at 40mm after excavation reached 30m. De- spite so, the settlement stabilized and did not increase further with excavation, which is possibly due to the removal of the soft clay layers to an extent of 25m from the RS, shown by boreholes sunk. At the LS end, the settlement accumulated up to 33mm recorded by Prism No. 7 and stabilized beyond that. During the last 15m of excavation, a huge increase in settlement is observed at the mid-point of excavation. This is likely due to the large unsupported pipe span resulting from the removal of the remaining interfacing soil be- tween the two excavation ends.

interfacing soil be- tween the two excavation ends. Figure 9. Settlement trends of prisms monitoring the

Figure 9. Settlement trends of prisms monitoring the pipe roof.

4.3 Comparison of measured and predicted pipe roof settlement

The comparison of predicted against measured settle- ment at the completion of excavation stage is pre- sented in Figure 10.

completion of excavation stage is pre- sented in Figure 10. Figure 10. Measured against predicted pipe

Figure 10. Measured against predicted pipe roof settlement.

The larger settlement predicted for the RS end was reflected by site measurements. The large increase in

settlement at mid-point of the tunnel predicted in the last excavation stage is also observed to be consistent with site measurement.

In terms of magnitude, the maximum measured set-

tlement of the pipe roof matches the predicted settle-

ment, which are 43mm and 45mm respectively. How-

ever, the location of the maximum settlement did not agree. This is postulated to be due to the presence of

a previously undetected abandoned sewer line, which was not considered in modeling.

A divergence in the profile trend is also noted. The

settlement predicted in the FE model exhibit minimal rate of change once supports in the form of steel frame sets are provided. This behavior is not demonstrated in the physical construction stage and measured data, as the actual settlement accumulated as excavation progressed.


Pipe roof method was used to construct two stretches of Sentosa Gateway Tunnel’s vehicular underpass,

where conventional cut and cover method is infeasi- ble due to the presence of existing structures. Consid- erable advancements to the typical pipe roof method were carried out, including integration of the tempo- rary support frames into the permanent tunnel linings,

a two-directional excavation and a customized moni-

toring system to monitor such excavation. The exca- vation of the two-lane piped box tunnel demonstrates settlement behaviors similar to those predicted using two-dimensional finite element software. Neverthe- less, several disparities are also observed, and this will hopefully, be addressed by the advancement in geotechnical engineering modeling in the near future.


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