Tuesday's overwhelming defeat by Fairfax City voters of a $15 million Rte. 123 road improvement referendum may improve the chances for an agreement with Fairfax County on a bypass around the city, some city and county officials say.

Almost three-fourths of those voting turned down a complex scheme that would have widened parts of Rte. 123 (Chain Bridge Road) and made sections of Chain Bridge Road and University Drive one way through the center of the city.

Rte. 123 is a major north-south connector that ties I-66 with the Fairfax County offices in the middle of Fairfax City and with George Mason University and its Patriot Center. At one point, however, Rte. 123 is only two lanes wide and the source of legendary traffic jams.

"Unilateral action by the city, or at least extensive unilateral action, seems to have been put to bed by this kind of thing," said City Council member Allen C. Griffith, who was one of the bond referendum's chief supporters.

Fairfax County officials have demanded the widening of Chain Bridge Road as a condition for a bypass, which would run through county land and require some county financing.

But some city officials said they hope the county will withdraw this demand as politically unrealistic. They also said they hope the new County Board of Supervisors, which will take office in January, will be more in tune with the city's goals.

Mayor George Snyder Jr. wrote a letter yesterday to Audrey Moore, chairman-elect of the county board, asking for a joint meeting of the board and the City Council to discuss transportation issues.

City and county officials have been arguing over building a bypass around the city to relieve traffic on Chain Bridge Road at least since 1972.

The narrowest segment of the road is Rust Curve, a two-lane tree-lined route that to many has become a precious symbol of the small-town character the city has, or at least wishes for. Standard wisdom in the city is that any attempt to widen Chain Bridge Road that would destroy the curve is political suicide.

The latest bond referendum would have left the curve intact, but opponents argued the plan could have cost up to $41 million in interest, disrupted residential areas with high-speed through traffic, diverted customers from downtown businesses, and helped mainly nonresidents. "Many, many of these people said, when this is basically a road utilized by county residents just passing through, let them do something about it. I heard this over and over again yesterday," said referendum opponent Walter Stephens.

City officials want to build a bypass west of the city, in the area of Shirley Gate Road, Braddock Road, and Waples Mill Road, or at Stringfellow Road.

"We've had this attitude that we're not going to do this unless you do that," said Sharon Bulova, a Democrat who will succeed Moore as Annandale District supervisor. "We can't just be stubborn and not do anything because you're not going to do what we want you to do."

Supervisor Martha Pennino (D-Centreville), said she was "terribly disappointed" the referendum failed. "I don't know what the rationale of the voters was. It was terribly important to keep the traffic flowing through the city . . . {but} there's no gain in being spiteful to the city. I think we should consider doing something about Stringfellow Road whether they do something about Rte. 123 or not."