E. Russell Vass, 69, a retired engineering draftsman with the Department of Transportation, died May 16 at his home in Arlington. He suffered from a heart ailment.

He had retired in 1971 as chief of the administrative services division's graphics and exhibits section after more than 40 years with the old Bureau of Public Roads and the Federal Highway Administration.

Born in Newbern, Va., Mr. Vass joined the federal government in 1927 as a cartographic draftsman with the Agriculture Department and the National Park Service.

He became an engineering draftsman with the Bureau of Public Roads in 1930, and was associated with the early phases of the federal primary and secondary roads program.

Mr. Vass had been in charge of numerous mapping projects, including the Alaska Highway, the Inter-American Highway and the Philippine highway rehabilitation program.

In 1940, he was assigned to a special unit that drafted into final form a national survey of all aspects of the 37,000 miles of highways that approximated the alignment of what is now the national system of interstate and defense highways. He also prepared transportaion analysis maps of some 200 military bases.

He is survived by his wife, Josephine A., of the home; two sons, E. Russell Jr., of Alexandria, and Roger W., of San Jose, Calif.; a sister, Lola, of Chicago, and three grandchildren.