Friday, March 29, 2013

What to consider: Culverts

Poorly installed and improperly designed culverts can lead to excessive erosion, damage to streams, high maintenance costs, and road failure.  In order to prevent these issues it is important to consider culvert type, diameter, length, and location.

Excessive sedimentation from a poorly planned culvert

There are two types of culverts: stream crossings and cross drains.  The first type, a stream crossing culvert, is generally placed in a location where a permanent stream crossing may be necessary, since it is often too costly both economically and ecologically to remove. These culverts allow both stream flow and aquatic wildlife to pass underneath the road.  The second type, cross drains, are used to transport upland runoff, accumulated in road ditches on the upland side of the roadway to the lower end where both flow volume and velocity can be dissipated.

Mouth of a cross drain culvert
Culvert diameter is determined by both the soil type on the site, how steep the site is, and the acreage of the watershed that the culvert drains.  Taking into consideration these factors ensures that the culvert is sizable enough to handle the maximum volume of water that it may encounter.

Culvert size chart from page 51 of the Texas Forestry Best Management Practices Handbook 
Culvert length is dictated by how wide the road is.  Culverts should be long enough so that each end extends at least one foot beyond the edge of the fill on either side.

Culvert location is paramount in dictating the longevity of the culvert.  In stream crossings, culverts should be placed in a section of stream where the channel is straight and the stream bed is firm.  Cross drain culverts should be spaced out depending on slope.  Cross drain culvert spacing can be determined using the following formula:

Culvert spacing = (400'/slope%)+100
         *Slope in percent is expressed as a whole number (i.e. 15%=15)
            Example: Spacing = (400'/15)+100'
                          Spacing= 127'

In addition to factoring in culvert specifications, it is also extremely important to factor in current weather conditions and trends.  Culvert installation should be done when stream flows and chance of rain are low.  Ideally, the entire installation process should be completed before a rain event.

UP NEXT:  Installing your culvert


  1. Hello, I am writing abook about soil erosion and I was wondering if I can use this culvert image. I would give you full credit and I would include your website address. Thanks!

  2. Pablo, sorry for the delayed response. Go for it! (assuming it is not too late)