For years, Fairfax City leaders have struggled with Fairfax County officials over who should unsnarl traffic on the city's streets, which are shared by local motorists and county drivers commuting between their homes in Burke or Fairfax Station and their offices in Tysons Corner or the Dulles corridor.

Last week, county and city officials, in separate actions, took different approaches to the problem.

At its Jan. 26 meeting, the Fairfax City Council approved this year's version of the city's five-year program of capital improvements. Included in the $29 million program are about $8 million in transportation improvements, including a new $1 million plan to add a third turning lane to Rte. 123 between Kenmore Drive and Warwick Avenue.

But the council decided to scale down two of the largest projects -- widening Old Lee Highway and Roberts Road, two residential streets with heavy commuter traffic that are alternative routes to Rte. 123.

"I think the city should leave them {Roberts Road and Old Lee Highway} the way they are," said Karla Martins, one of dozens of city residents who objected to the projects at public hearings during the last two months. "I think that widening them will encourage faster traffic, it will encourage a greater volume of traffic, it will make it less safe for children. It will encourage more county people to cut through the city, instead of encouraging the county to build bypasses around us."

"I think because those cars {on city roads} have Fairfax County stickers on their windshields it is perceived to be Fairfax County's problem," said City Council member Glenn White. "The general perception of people who live in Fairfax City is if you widen a road you're going to get more traffic on them, so don't widen the roads."

Coincidentally, Fairfax County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert earlier that day had sent the County Board of Supervisors his recommendations for projects to be included in this spring's $150 million county road bond referendum. Included was a $9.8 million plan to build a bypass around Fairfax City along Shirley Gate and Waples Mill roads that would connect Braddock Road with I-66.

Since 1972, the city has been pressing the county to build the bypass to relieve commuter traffic on Rte. 123, the narrow thoroughfare that cuts through Fairfax City. County officials, especially former Board of Supervisors chairman John F. Herrity, had refused to back such a plan unless Fairfax City agreed to widen Rte. 123 from two and three lanes to four lanes all the way through town.

Fairfax City residents have consistently rejected major improvements to Rte. 123, most recently in November, when voters rejected by a 3-to-1 ratio a bond referendum that, among other changes, would have widened part of Rte. 123 to four lanes.

But Sharon Bulova, one of three new county supervisors swept into office last fall in the same election in which Herrity was defeated, said she believes the time has come to go ahead with the bypass plan.

"It {the bypass} has to be done regardless of what Fairfax City is or isn't doing. Shirley Gate Road already is being used as a bypass. It's only two lanes," Bulova said. "I think it's irresponsible for us not to build that."

In May, all six Fairfax City Council members and Mayor George T. Snyder Jr. will be up for election, and transportation, as always, will be a major campaign issue. Near the end of its Jan. 26 meeting, which ran to 2:30 a.m., the City Council voted 5 to 1 to recommend to the planning commission that Rte. 123 remain in the town's comprehensive plan as a four-lane road along its entire length, even though there are no proposals for its widening.

Said City Council member John Mason, who was the only council member to oppose the $15 million bond referendum to widen Rte. 123 and who cast the dissenting vote on the recommendation: "Given that the city electorate turned down the bond referendum . . .on a 3-to-1 basis, for the City Council to continue to push for four-laning from border to border" would not be right in an election year.