The U.S. Department of Transportation is paying for a study on the burning question of how it can improve its graphic and perhaps, redesign the DOT seal at the same time.

The cost of the study, won in competitive bidding for $90,000 by the New York firm of Danne and Blackburn, has grown to $140,000. The savings to be derived from cleaner graphics and fewer choices for DOT's many agencies when they visit the printers is supposed to be $2 million or $500,000, depending on which estimate you take.

"I have taken the lower figure of $500,000, because I was once a cynical newspaperman," said Robert Holland, DOT's press secretary. Holland took the unusual step in DOT of actually claiming responsibility for the project himself.

Would the new seal be painted on DOT signs across the country, and hung from DOT podiums whenever Secretary Goldschmidt steps forth to speak?

"No," said Holland. "We'll replace old seals as needed." Old stationery will be used until it is exhausted, he said. "If we were throwing out the paper, there would be no savings," he said.

The impetus for the project came early in the Carter administration, Holland said, when a delegation from the National Endowment for the Arts called and suggested that the DOT graphics program was an uncoordinated mess. "They showed us a hall of horrors and we agreed," Holland said.

New Secretary Goldschmidt, Holland said, has insisted that the "savings" show up in the 1982 budget. "It is fair to say the secretary is skeptical on this," Holland said.