Ralph (Trey) Holmes III, 13, startled sleeping parents before dawn last summer with anguished screams that rang through their suburban Virginia home.

The reason: the rumbling of massive earthmovers and pile drivers starting another day's work on the Interstate Rte. 66 construction site less than 500 feet from Trey's bedroom.

For Trey, who suffers from neurological disorders that are aggravated by excessive noise, the racket was unbearable. His parents sent him in September to western New York state to attend a special school -- but only after $2,000 in home soundproofing failed to dampen the din outside their house.

While the Holmeses are an extreme example, they reflect the consternation and dismay of scores of Northern Virginia residents who live along the right of way of the long-delayed, 9.7 mile I-66 extension from the Capital Beltway to Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.

State highway officials say they are making an unprecedented effort to make I-66 the "least disruptive" and most esthetically pleasing urban parkway in the Washington area.

"We've moved a bike trail and redesigned a lot of retaining walls so that trees will remain. We've changed the shoulders of the road to alter the architecture," said Johnnie Butler; a highway department spokesman.

The alternations have been so vast, according to Moody Vann, an assistant construction engineer in Richmond, that "the escalation of costs has been tremendous." Projected costs, said one official, will far exceed $200 million and the highway may not be complete until 1983, a year later than originally planned.

If that happens, it will be only the latest, setback for the project, one of the most controversial and fiercely opposed in Northern Virginia roadbuilding history.

The four-lane highway, pushed through with support from then governor Mills E. Goodwin, has been delayed by lawsuits, attacked by vandals, and even placed under the scrutiny of an environmental watchdog with headquarters in a little green trailer nearby.

Opponents have lobbed paint-filled balloons at construction equipment, tarred tractors seats and refused to climb out of trees that had to be chopped down.

Though construction grinds on undaunted, the hearts and minds of the area's residents have not necessarily followed.

"This is inane", said Mrs. John Nagley, a resident of 2234 Great Falls St., as she stared in disgust at a layer of brown dirt that covered her two-story house, shrubbery, trees and car.

"A convoy of dirt-laden trucks come so close to the house that it shakes and you can't hear yourself talk," she said. "Then they use this ridiculous street sweeper that raises clouds of dust because they said the road has to be kept clean . . . it's ridiculous,"

"And they are doing all this to reduce commuter time by just 15 minutes." said Marian Agnew, president of CONTACT, a national coalition of citizens groups who are "fighting resurgent freeways."

"They are simply anachronistic . . . the superhighway is an idea whose group has lost two court cases to prevent the I-66 construction.

John Richards, 51, says he can stand the dust, but not the fact that his night job means he gets off work at 6 a.m., when the earthmovers near his home at 2312a Great Falls St. are warming up.

"For the past 18 months, I've been averaging three or four hours of sleep a day," Richards shouted over the roar of a buildozer. What is worse, he said, was that the highway workers lowered the street in front of his driveway five feet -- an action intended by Virginia officials to placate residents who opposed an elevated thoroughfare.

"It's too steep. I tried driving up it twice and damn near ruined by car," Richards said.

Gardner Hauck, a burly, 40-year-old operator of a massive 30-foot "pan" earthmover, knows the disgruntlement of nearby residents better than most. He remembered waving at a group of onlookers recently who appeared to be shouting hello. Then he removed the sound mufflers from his ears.

"They were calling me things a good Christian never heard of," said the barrel-chested Hauck.

"Let's you say that this hasn't been the best environment in which to build a highway," Robert Hundley, a state environment quality engineer, said recently from his Richmond office. "it's an ordeal for people to accept. They feel their communities have been disrupted."

"This was such a charming neighborhood, a nice place to watch children grow up. There was a gorgeous forest, right where the construction is going on," said Kathy Hughes, a government microbiologist.

"They have actually painted some of the retainer walls the color of mud . . . It's supposed to be natural, I guess . . . natural mud," said Ned Helf, another Arlington resident. Helf, a retired CIA employe, said the I-66 noise reduction barriers were "pea green atrocities."

Meanwhile, Don Keith, resident engineer for the highway department, bemoans the task of pleasing everybody.

"When we started putting up the barriers, they said for God's sake don't make them all the same color,'" he said. "So we used dark wood for some, green steel for others, and concrete for the rest. Then the people who got concrete said they wanted wood and vice versa . . . you just can't win."