Less than two weeks before the scheduled opening of I-66 between the river and the Beltway, only about 1,000 feet -- about the length of three football fields -- remain to be surfaced and lined. A day's worth of painting and a little sweeping and, short of a monsoon, Virginia transportation officials say the long-awaited commuter artery will open as promised Dec. 22.

"The rest of the B3" -- base asphalt, the coarse surface over the grading, which is scheduled to be laid today -- "just has to cool, then we come back and put down the riding surface," said project inspector J.E. Harpine. "It shouldn't take more than three or four days to finish all the paving."

There are still loose ends. Lighting under two Rossyln overpasses that will eventually be joined by an overhead plaza, may not be complete by opening day, for example, and there may be sections of the shoulder that still need smoothing or widening.

After the noise and debris of the past years, though, work is finally slowing down. Yesterday, only a handful of men and pickups remained of the one-time battalion of workers and equipment that filled the area. From the Lee Highway overpass, the finished portion of I-66 today sweeps out of sight.

Between Rosslyn and the Capital Beltway (I-495) are distinctive touches of what traffic and safety engineer Thomas Farley calls "the people's roadway." There are several different types of sound-reducing walls--taupe and pale-green metal, wood-fronted concrete, stone and prefabricated, interlocking concrete panels -- each chosen by the adjoining communities. Landscaping crews have already coaxed grass up along most of the highway.

"What delayed us for so long was we had to blast through solid rock under Rosslyn," said Harpine, pointing to a few piles of boulder rubble. "We'll have to come back and correct, but we'll do that after rush hours, block off one lane."

The official evidence, the shield-shaped 66 markers and lane guides, will be in place by the weekend. Theodore Roosevelt Bridge will be closed at midnight for the installations; the eastbound lane will reopen at 8 a.m. tomorrow, and the westbound lane will reopen at noon.

Harpine said I-66 planners had promised "only two lanes, a parklike appearance and restricted traffic during rush hours" by opening day. "Some of the projects are already landscaped," he said. "If we don't get the slopes done before Dec. 22, it won't stop the opening."

From 6:30 a.m. until 9 a.m., eastbound lanes of I-66 from the Capital Beltway will be open only to HOV4s -- "high occupancy vehicles" (carpools of at least four persons). From 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., only carpools will be allowed westbound.

The U.S. Park Police and the Virginia Highway Department remain at odds over whether drivers headed south on George Washington Parkway will be allowed to use Theodore Roosevelt Bridge during morning rush hour once I-66 opens.

Farley said his office wants morning rush hour traffic from the parkway kept off the bridge. Park Police say that because there is no access to Key Bridge from the parkway, closing Roosevelt Bridge will snarl Memorial and the 14th Street bridges.