A state official is urging Fairfax County and Virginia Electric & Power Co. officials to meet as soon as possible in an effort to break an impasse over a proposed 3.1-mile high-voltage power line that Vepco wants to put overhead in the Burke area and the county insists should go underground.

Russell W. Cunningham, senior hearing examiner for the utility-regulating State Corporation Commission, said last week that he wants the two parties to sit down to resolve their differences over the power line. It would cost $2.8 million to install overhead and $6.4 million underground, he said.

Both sides, Cunningham suggested, could consider several options, including the county's paying part of the underground installation costs, putting only part of the line underground, or settling on an overhead line with more but shorter poles than the 105-foot-tall ones Vepco plans.

The proposed line and a substation that would be built off Guinea Road are critically needed to accommodate the rapid growth in the Burke area, Cunningham said.

Plans call for the line to run above ground on the southern side of Southern Railway's right-of-way from the Ravensworth substation to the proposed substation, passing close to several residential developments.

County Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), whose district would include a large part of the project, said that the meeting proposal may be premature because of concerns the railroad raised at a Sept. 20 hearing on the plan.

Railroad officials then said they were concerned that a power line along Southern's right-of-way could jeopardize the safety of its operations by interfering with signal and communiciation facilities, according to an SCC summary of the hearing.

"It never dawned on me that Southern would object to an overhead power line," Moore said.

Under Virginia law, she said, the SCC must have another hearing on the project if the railroad wants to block Vepco's use of its right-of-way. That hurdle should be cleared before Fairfax considers spending any money to place the line underground -- a prospect Moore says is slim.

"I want to see if the SCC isn't going to require that the line be buried for the protection of the railroad before these conversations take place" between the county and Vepco, she said.

Railroad officials could not be reached for comment. Cunningham said the railroad and the utility "have worked together before and I see no reason why they can't work together now." He said that the SCC has authority to order the railroad to allow Vepco to use its land "if public convenience requires it."

Cunningham said he may still order a hearing if the two utilities reach an agreement on the land because of the impact the project could have on nearby residences. Part of the Burke Manor subdivision would be only 20 feet from the line.

Residents of six Burke subdivisions complained that an overhead line would pose safety hazards, diminish property values by marring the landscape, and disrupt the environment. Although the railroad is already in their neighborhood, the residents said, it has been screened in some areas by landscaping.

Besides Burke Manor, the subdivisions that would be affected are Cardinal Estates, Lakepointe, Burke Centre, Homewood and Signal Hill.