To hear most Democratic incumbents and their Republican challengers in three Fairfax County House of Delegates races tell it, the road to Richmond is far too rough and something ought to be done about it.

That's just what five of the six candidates in the 36th, 39th and 43rd legislative districts say will be a top priority if they are elected: trying to overhaul the state formula for allocating highway funds to Northern Virginia so that area roads get the care they need.

"We're already on the short end of the stick as it relates to state highway funds," said Del. Kenneth R. Plum, a Reston Democrat running in the 36th District. "So we're going to have to talk about how to redivide money throughout the state so we get a fairer shake."

In addition, all but one of the candidates agree the major task facing the legislature will be adjusting the biennial budget because of lower than anticipated revenues and federal budget cuts. Under the state's new reapportionment plan, each is running for the first time in single-member districts for a one-year term instead of the traditional two years. 36th District

Plum, a three-year veteran of the General Assembly and director of Fairfax County's adult education program, is being challenged by Frank Ruppert, a McLean Republican, who owns the C. W. Simpson Inc. real estate firm and the M. Frank Ruppert Inc. construction company.

The district covers the Reston, Dranesville and Centreville areas of the north-central part of the county.

Unlike Plum and the other candidates, Ruppert, 49, said the most important issue facing the legislature is government "accountability to the citizens inspired by the New Federalism. . . . Will the citizens hold their legislators to account?"

In that vein, Ruppert is particularly critical of a recent vote by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to approve a child-care program without a public hearing. He said the program would be "particularly offensive to a great number of citizens" because it would allow children to be "out of sight" of the day-care officials and, thus, potential victims of rapists and other criminals.

A spokeswoman for the county's Child Care Office, however, disputed Ruppert's description of the child-care program, noting the one to which he apparently was referring has not been implemented. She said the board did not hold a public hearing because one is not required to apply for a federal grant, the only action taken by the board.

Plum, 40, said he would like the General Assembly to begin the groundwork for a possible expansion of a teacher retraining program in the upcoming session.

Among his positions, Plum has suggested expanding the Virginia Writing Project to include retraining math and science teachers. Under the writing project, state universities help update and retrain writing teachers during summer seminars. Those teachers in turn retrain other teachers as a way to minimize costs and to share the benefits, he said.

"We could use the available resources in the colleges' schools of education rather than lay on new layers of bureaucracy," Plum said.

Ruppert also said he is concerned about governmental interference in the work place, particularly the potential for more regulation of the mental health field that he said could lead to the bankruptcy of some small businesses. 39th District

Democrat Vivian Watts of Annandale, elected to the House a year ago, is being challenged by Republican Eric G. Mansfield of Springfield, a senior staff member at Dynatrend, a management consulting firm specializing in transportation, energy and science.

The district is in central Fairfax County and includes parts of Annandale and Springfield.

Besides her prime issue of revising the highway formula, Watts, 42, said she will try to stiffen drunken driving laws and requirements that allow out-of-state residents who attend state colleges to qualify for the lower tuitions of in-state students.

Watts said the legislature should pass a law making requiring an automatic conviction for drunken driving if a driver's blood-alcohol content is above a certain level. Now, she said, blood-alcohold content is just one of several elements considered.

On the out-of-state students' tuition, Watts said: "I want to make sure the in-state students and the taxpayers aren't unnecessarily supporting out-of-state people who may have no intention of staying here after they graduate." She said now they only have to say they intend to live in Virginia after college to qualify for the lower tuition.

She also wants to license off-road vehicles, such as motorcycles and jeeps, to increase funds to repair the damage and erosion they cause.

Mansfield, 46, in his first political race, said the state needs to toughen laws allowing pretrial and post-trial release of repeat offenders. "We also need to stiffen some of the penalties for repeat offenders with violent weapons and tighten up on drug traffic. . . . And although I don't think it's a problem right now, we need to make sure organized crime doesn't get a foothold here," he said.

Mansfield said he also supports elected school boards in the state and believes the process for selecting judges "is very poorly handled." The public and the bar association should be more involved in such appointments, he said, rather than leaving them to the political majority of the legislature.

Although the state is required by law to have a balanced budget, Mansfield said he would like that stipulation in the state's constitution. "The way things are going now, the current law is likely to be changed unless it's put in the constitution," he said. 43rd District

Democrat Gladys Keating of Franconia, a consumer lobbyist at the legislature before she was elected a delegate five years ago, is facing Republican newcomer Douglas E. Brown of Engleside, an accountant with the firm of Homer E. Pinkard Jr.

The district covers the county's southeastern section, including Franconia, Groveton and Hybla Valley.

Keating, 59, has a broad legislative study agenda, ranging from reviews of mandated insurance coverage for crippled children to unregulated mortgage-lending companies to how the AT&T divestiture will affect consumers.

On insurance, she said, some policies are exclusionary or will not pay if other coverage, such as Medicaid, is available. The policies should be reviewed "with an eye to getting the best coverage for the people with the least amount of money," Keating said.

Consumers also may need protection from some of the smaller mortgage-lending companies springing up that are unregulated by the state and offer various "creative financing" loans that have to be renegotiated every few years.

Brown, 30, said he would work to repeal the sales tax on food and for some form of indexing of state income taxes. He also called for "some form of mandated sentencing for repeat offenders" and holding parents more accountable for crimes by their children.

"We also need some meaningful conflict-of-interest legislation" for state legislators and stricter financial disclosure laws, Brown said.