The unlikely sight of highway stripes coming up in pieces flying in the wind and wandering all over the pavement in the haphazard patterns is the part of an experiment in highway markings, according to officials of the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation.

The department began experimenting this past summer with several highway marking products to determine the least expensive and most durable, said Donald Keith, the department's resident engineer. Of seven contracts awarded in the experiment, only an aluminium tape backed with a small amount of pressure-sensitive adhesive has been breaking, Keith said.

"It comes in a great big roll, like adhesive tape. You put it on the road and cut to the length you need. Unfortunately, it breaks and comes up," he said.

The tape was applied to Routes 7.50 and 123, Old Dominion Drive, Columbia Pike, Fort Hunt Road, Old Keene Milll Road and Gallows Road in Fairfax and on Washington Boulevard, Lee Highway and Old Dominion Drive in Arlington as well as on portions of roadway in Loudoun Couonty, Keith said.

The contract for the striping material, manufactured by the 3-M Company, was awarded to the Shirley Contracting Company of Alexandria for 676,000 feet at a cost of $172,011. Only 510,000 feet, or approximately 96 miles of the material was actually applied by the Allied Striping Co because of the breakage problems, according to Bill Spiedel of Allied Stripping.

"The best way to look at this is that it is a test, funded by the Federal Highway Administration and here is an example of marking roads) that didn't work well," Spiedel said. He said the stripping was coming up because of insufficient adhesive on the back of the tape, deteriorating roadways, especially on the shoulder where the majority of problems have occured, and the tape's tendency to sheer when traffic stops suddenly or turns across it.

Spiedel, who supervised the applications of the tape said the manufacturer suggests a thicker plastic substance with more adhesive for roadway lining instead of the aluminum tape.

Both Keith and Spiedel said the product has been used on short sections of roadway, pedestrian crosswalk and for temporary markings with satisfactory results. Keith said he expects the experiment to be completed in early 1978, when the highway department selects a single method of applying highway stripes.