The objective was to optimize the existing solution for the limit support pressure of a tunnel face. Firstly, based on the numerical simulation results, the existing three-dimensional analytical solution for pore water pressure distribution is expanded to a three-dimensional solution considering the pore water pressure distribution in the upper formation behind the tunnel face. Then, according to the results of physical model tests, a failure model considering the failure range in the upper formation behind the tunnel face is established, and the newly established three-dimensional solution for pore water pressure is introduced into the model, and then the limit effective support pressure of the tunnel face considering seepage is obtained by the method of soil–water joint calculation. Finally, the calculation results in this paper are compared with the experimental results, numerical simulation results and existing theoretical solutions. The major findings are as follows. The distribution of pore water pressure in the front and back strata above the tunnel face is basically symmetrical. The limit effective support pressure of the tunnel face will increase linearly with an increase in the hydraulic head difference between the tunnel face and the ground surface. The calculated results of the new limit equilibrium theory are obviously larger than those of the existing theory and numerical simulation and closer to the results of the physical model tests. Therefore, the new limit equilibrium model can better predict the limit effective support pressure of the tunnel face considering seepage and provide a reference for actual projects.
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