One year after the creation of a regional transportation commission spawned to battle traffic congestion in Northern Virginia's outer suburbs, the group has raised both money and expectations. But most of the $2.1 million it has collected in gasoline tax revenue remains sitting in the bank.

Nonetheless, top officials in Prince William and Stafford counties say that even if residents are not yet seeing progress in the form of shorter commuting trips, the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation District Commission remains among the best hopes for easing the choking grip of the area's traffic problems. Moreover, the commission's cornerstone project -- commuter rail service from Fredericksburg and Manassas to Washington -- is closer to fruition than ever, supporters maintain.

The commission's first birthday, marked by varying assessments of its record and prospects, comes as some officials in Fairfax County and other close-in localities are expressing increasing interest in forming a regional group involving jurisdictions throughout Northern Virginia as the best solution to the area's transportation crisis.

Skeptics cast a wary eye on proposals -- such as one last month by Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity -- to create a regional transportation body, saying that such attempts at cooperation most likely would fall apart as soon as powerful localities, such as Fairfax, found their interests at odds with those of outer suburbs, such as Prince William.

The Potomac and Rappahannock commission, which comprises Prince William and Stafford counties and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, was formed after the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation giving the group power to levy a 2 percent tax on gasoline.

The commission has authority to spend the money on a wide range of transportation projects, from road improvements to commuter buses, but so far is saving more than half of its money to aid the start-up of commuter rail, said John Schofield, the commission's acting director. Some money has been spent on commuter bus programs and other projects.

The commuter rail project, which boosters have hailed for more than a year as being just around the corner, remains mired in difficulties, including problems obtaining liability insurance.

The commission's insistence on pursuing commuter rail has drawn criticism. State Del. Thomas M. Moncure Jr., a Stafford County Republican, has branded it an idea that is "going nowhere," and earlier this year sponsored an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate the commission.

Even if commuter rail should ever get up and running, Moncure said, ridership would be so small as to make virtually no dent in the mind-numbing rush-hour congestion on I-95. Frustration with the overburdened interstate, he said, has blinded residents and many public officials alike to the impracticalities of commuter rail. "Virtually anyone you talk to" supports it, he said. "They're not going to ride it, but they support it."

Moncure said the transportation commission's gas levy is "a tax in search of a way to be spent."

Del. David G. Brickley, the Prince William Democrat who sponsored the bill creating the commission, said the delays with commuter rail have been the commission's "biggest disappointment." Nonetheless, he said, he is confident the hurdles will be surmounted, and that the rail line will be an important source of relief for I-95.

"Like everything else, it never moves as quickly as you'd like it to," said Prince William Supervisor Donald E. Kidwell (R-Woodbridge), chairman of the 14-member commission. "I think we're being very prudent" with the gas tax revenue, he said, adding that if commuter rail has not come to fruition in a year, the commission most likely will explore other ways to spend the money.

While officials in Prince William and Stafford are debating the merits of the Potomac and Rappahannock group, Herrity recently unveiled a proposal for merging it with Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which comprises Fairfax and Arlington counties and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church. That body, in existence since the 1960s, also levies a 2 percent gasoline tax, which is used to finance Metrorail.

Herrity, a Republican, contends that merging the two groups would provide a vehicle for addressing transportation problems caused by the awesome residential growth in Prince William, Loudoun and other outer suburbs. Since most of the thousands of newcomers drive to work in the District and closer-in suburbs, this growth has become a rising concern for Herrity and other officials.

"It's the 'Arlingtonization' of Fairfax," Herrity said. "We are inextricably intertwined with Loudoun and Prince William . . . . These {problems} should be discussed in concert, not in a vacuum."

Democrat Audrey Moore, Herrity's main opponent in the November election for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said she also believes that the interests of the outer suburbs and Fairfax are closely linked, adding that she was opposed to the creation of separate transportation commissions in the first place.

Many officials in the outer suburbs are wary of an alliance with Fairfax, which, they contend, in the past has zealously guarded its interests at the expense of others'. One example is Ridgefield Road, a proposed highway through the middle of Prince William that would cross the Occoquan River and connect with the proposed Springfield Bypass in Fairfax County. Ridgefield Road, a top priority with Prince William officials, was crossed out of Fairfax's transportation plans, making its construction unlikely.

"Regional planning has got to be more than the Fairfax interest," said Kidwell.