Virginia Attorney General Marshall Coleman has issued an advisory opinion saying the state Department of Highways and Transportation has authority to widen Great Falls Street in McLean to four lanes, despite opposition from McLean residents and political leaders.

The opinion came in a letter to state Sen. Clive Du Val II (D-Fairfax) in response to the senator's request for Coleman's legal opinion of whether the State Highway Commission can overrule the county government's position on the road widening.

The State Highway Commission wants to expand Great Falls Street to four lanes for a total width of 44-feet. McLean residents and Fairfax County supervisors oppose the four-lane plan and instead support a proposal for a 35-foot wide road with turning lanes.

Coleman said the state has authority to proceed with the four-lane plan because the Fairfax County Board last spring had agreed to a state-proposed, six-year highway plan. That plan included the four-laning of Great Falls Street. Although the Fairfax Board of Supervisors several weeks ago endorsed the 36-foot widening, the board last May adopted the six-year plan, which calls for widening Great Falls Street to four lanes, said Shiva Pant, director of transportation for Fairfax County. A week after adopting the six-year plan, a motion was made at a Board of Supervisors meeting to rescind the Great Falls Street four-laning plan, but that motion was tabled and never called to a vote, said Pant.

Coleman's opinion was written shortly after a meeting on Oct. 6 between Waverly Brittle Jr. of the State Highway Commission staff and McLean opponents of the four-lane plan. At that time, Brittle told the McLean group their proposal for a 36-foot-wide road had been rejected by the Commission, said Lilla Richards, who attended the meeting. Richards is the immediate past president of the McLean Citizens Association.

However, Richards met with State Highway Commisioner Harold King late last week at a conference inLexington and said the commissioner seemed surprised by her report of what Brittle had told the McLean group, Richards said King indicated the commission had not reevaluated the McLean group's proposal. Richards this week said she feels that Brittle and other State Highway Commission representatives at the Oct. 6 meeting "weren't sufficiently instructed" by the commission.

"I have a great deal of confidence that Commissioner King is sincere in the promise he made in August" to reconsider the State Highway Department's decision to widen the street to 44 feet (four lanes), Richards said. "I don't feel we've exhausted our opportunities with the commission."

Richards said Coleman's opinion will probably be discussed tonight when the McLean Citizens Association transportation committee meets. Richards expects the committee to decide to wait for a report from King on clarification and possible reevaluation of the road-widening matter. If King's report is unfavorable, the group may then seek an injunction pending judicial review of Coleman's advisory opinion, said Richards.

In the meantime, Richards said, the group will probably continue to request the State Highway Department to use maintenance funds to repair the existing road. State Highway Department engineer Donal Keith has said such repairs would not interfere with any future widening of the road. In the past, the state has refused to upgrade Great Falls Street unless it can widen it to four lanes.