When Northern Virginia politicians chart their "wish list" for the 1985 General Assembly, most can barely see beyond the massive traffic jams and choked highways of the sprawling suburbs.

In a perennial battle that has become as frustrating as rush-hour gridlock, area legislators once again will be grabbing for more road money for Northern Virginia.

Any other issues, they say, rate a distant second in interest or importance.

"It's the thing the most people are most concerned about," said Del. Dorothy S. McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), who, along with many of her colleagues, believes that state formulas for parceling out highway money shortchange rapidly growing Northern Virginia.

The trouble is, legislators in most other parts of the state are making the same complaint about the money given to their cities and counties. Although several state studies have recommended changes in the road money formulas, legislators are predicting a full-scale war over how changes should be made.

Northern Virginia governments and legislators are taking a smorgasbord of other pleas to the General Assembly.

Garbage is likely to float to the top of the legislative heap as one of the most controversial local issues of the 45-day session that begins Jan. 9.

A communications gap between county officials and the local legislative delegation left Fairfax County on the sidelines last session when two neighboring jurisdictions won authority to build a massive incinerator to make electricity from garbage.

Fairfax County officials this year will be pushing for the same authority, noting that the county's garbage landfills are rapidly running out of room for trash. But with the powerful trash haulers' lobby opposing the bill and with disagreement over the issue among local legislators, lawmakers are predicting a tough fight.

In Virginia, where the so-called Dillon rule, which allows localities to do only what the legislature has authorized them to do, is strictly followed, some of the most controversial issues of the session center around local governments' requests for permission to enact seemingly parochial ordinances.

Take for example, Arlington County's plea for more power to take action against the owners of "unkept private property."

" 'Unkept property' will mean property with overgrown grass," says the legislative package drawn up by the county staff.

And just how overgrown is overgrown grass? It is "defined as a minimum of 18 inches in height, noxious weeds, and other foreign growth."

Those are the kinds of requests that may seem harmless to suburban legislators but that raise the hackles of downstate lawmakers representing rural counties where they say such ordinances could create havoc.

Northern Virginia legislators say they frequently face problems with bills that address issues foreign to other parts of the state.

Arlington and Alexandria are again asking the General Assembly to allow them to strengthen protections for tenants of condominiums and rental housing. Those bills tend to meet resistance from lawmakers who say they believe such ordinances unduly hamper landlords' ability to do business.

There also are the cases where Northern Virginia counties go to the legislature for the right to be like others. Cities in Virginia have far broader taxing powers than do counties. Northern Virginia counties this year are asking for more powers.

Prince William County officials are seeking the power to levy a restaurant tax and a cigarette tax. Arlington, which along with Fairfax won approval to impose cigarette taxes in past sessions, wants the power to raise those cigarette taxes.

The two Northern Virginia counties are limited to a 5-cent-per-pack tax, while most cities can charge a 10-cent tax. Arlington wants the authority to impose the dime tax.

Local legislators will be attempting to divert some of the anticipated state budget surplus toward Northern Virginia. Arlington wants $150,000 for jail construction, Prince William is asking for money to finish a group home for boys, and Alexandria says it needs money for a waterfront dredging project.

Meanwhile State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) says he will push to funnel some of that money into education, including two state colleges in the area -- Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University.

Saslaw told a group of Fairfax Democrats several weeks ago, in the aftermath of widespread reports that some of the surplus would be poured into the state's prison system, "If it's a choice of spending money on schools or prisons, I'll tell you my choice. And it's not prisons."