The Prince William County Board of Supervisors appears ready to place on the ballot this fall a $42 million bond issue to improve the county's severely strained road network, despite the rejection by voters of a similar referendum two years ago.

A citizens task force, formed by the supervisors last year to study the county's roads and other construction needs, presented its report suggesting the referendum at a board meeting last night in Dumfries. A majority of the board has stated publicly that it will support the referendum.

The vote seems likely to shape into a contest over what Prince William residents hate the most: traffic or debt.

Wary of higher taxes and scornful of what critics called wasteful spending, county voters have a long history of turning down bond issues. They snubbed a $20 million road bond referendum by a wide margin in 1984.

But several Prince William politicians, most of whom have long supported debt financing as the county pitches and heaves to accommodate growth, now say that maddening delays on some roads have "enlightened" voters to the wisdom of bonds.

"There's a level of frustration coming from the people," said Terry Spellane, chairman of the Citizens' Bond Referendum Committee. "People want to see some asphalt."

Surveys conducted by the committee showed that majorities of the county residents, though in some cases not decisive majorities, supported bond financing for such goals as improving secondary roads and improving access roads to the interstate highways in Prince William.

"I think the people are lined up bumper to bumper and they are saying: 'Let's do something about it,' " said Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco).

Also fueling the sentiment for bond financing, some officials said, is the realization that the state, which traditionally has responsibility for road construction in Virginia, apparently has neither the resources nor the willingness to fund Northern Virginia's transportation needs.

"It's far beyond finger-pointing," Prince William planning chief Roger W. Snyder said of the state's failure to keep pace with road construction. "It's got to be a partnership . . . . Folks have said 'enough is enough.' "

Spellane called for a widespread "public education" effort until the November bond vote. The 1984 vote failed largely because county politicians failed to campaign aggressively for it, fearing that they would be linked with high taxes, according to some observers.

Spellane stressed yesterday that the proposed bond could be paid back without an increase in the real estate tax rate.

Included in the proposed bond issue would be:

*More than $10 million in improvements to Prince William's busy Rte. 234, including a bypass around Manassas between I-66 and Lucasville Road, widening between Godwin Drive and I-66, and upgrading to four lanes between Rte. 1 and Waterway Drive.

*$3.5 million to widen Minnieville Road from two lanes to four between Cardinal Drive and Dale Boulevard, plus $5 million to widen Davis Ford Road to four lanes from Old Bridge Road to the new Horner Road.

*A $4 million police and fire training center, a $3.7 million library on Davis Ford Road in eastern Prince William, and $4.3 million for park and recreation facilities.