Construction of the long-debated segment of Interstate Rte. 66 inside the Capital Beltway should be underway as early as this summer, barring and unfavorable court ruling, Virginia highway officials said yesterday.
The officials said they plan to open bids next Tuesday for the first 1.4 mile segment of the four-lane, restricted access highway. The decision to begin work came after state officials said they had received formal notification that a federal wage board in Washington had rejected a Labor Department proposal to force higher wages on certain portions of the project.
Virginia Highway Commissioner John E. Hartwood said the ruling means that construction of the first two segments of the highway - from the Beltway to a point near Lee Highway in East Falls Church - would begin before this fall or certainly by the first of the year." Work on those segments should be completed by "the spring of 1979," he said.
Completion ofthe entire 9.6-mile highway should take five to six years.
The only possible barrier to work on the road would be a ruling by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals reopening the bitter dispute over construction of the highway across Fairfax and Arlington counties to the Potomac River, according to Walter A. McFarlane, a deputy Virginia attorney general.
The appeals court currently is being asked by opponents of the road to order U.S. District Judge John Sirica to consider their complaints against the project. On April 14 Sirica held that the case was essentially the same as one heard previously by a federal judge in Virginia and directed that the case be sent to Virginia.
McFarlane said the state will save between $2.5 million and $3 million on the first 1.4-miles section of the road because of the wage board's decision that allows all workers on the road to be paid at rates "substantially under" those paid to workers on the Washington Metro rail system.
At ruling of Gov. Mills E. Godwin, the highway department had appealed a decision of Labor Secretary Ray Marshall directing that a dual wage rate be paid for the highway work.Workers building a median strip that might be used for extension of a Metro line to Vienna were to be paid at a rate 82 per cent higher than workers on the rest of the highway project under his ruling.
Construction unions also balked at the Marshall decision, arguing that the entire road should be built by workers at the higher wage scale.
Members of the wage board, part of the Labor Department, rejected both the Marshall plan and the union proposal. Citing uncertainly over completion of the Vienna subway line, the board held that the wages "have to deal with the here and now," according to Warren Landis, acting administrator of the Labor Department's wage and hour division.
The Vienna line is being reviewed by a Metro task force and may never be built in the median strip, state officials had argued. Furthermore, the state contended, it "couldn't tell the difference" between what work was required for the highway and work needed fort the Metro median. McFarlane argued further that the highway construction work was "more fiffcult" than the Metro-related work, although the Labor Department wanted the Metro workers to be paid "an average of 82 per cent more" than the highway workers.
Under the board's ruling unskilled laborers on the highway will be paid $4.50 instead of the Metro rate of $9.07 an hour and road grader operator $6.50 an hour instead of $11.45 an hour.