When Prince William voters overwhelmingly passed a $66 million road bond in 1988, county officials were thrilled because residents had rejected previous road bonds.

But now, as officials are supervising the construction of a road, they are finding it is harder than they expected.

One of the four projects included in the bond -- the improvement of the crowded Davis Ford Road corridor between Liberia and Hoadly roads -- has become the county's hottest controversy in recent months.

On June 5, the Board of County Supervisors will hold public hearings on two proposals: widening the existing road for an estimated $79.5 million or building a new mid-county route for $57.3 million.

The Davis Ford Road enterprise marks the first time that local politicians, rather than state officials, have final decision-making authority over a controversial road project. Most supervisors seem surprised by the fury generated by the proposals.

Opponents of the new road charge voter fraud, saying the 1988 referendum failed to make clear that the money might be used for anything other than a wider version of existing Davis Ford. Supporters of a new road say it would be cheaper and its construction would disrupt less traffic.

Most supervisors seem to be leaning toward the less expensive choice, because it would give cross-county drivers two roads to choose from. However, they caution they will wait for the public hearing before making a final decision.

Their selection may not end the battle, however, because the 1988 bond included only $20 million for design and right-of-way purchase for Davis Ford. This fall, residents will vote on another bond to build the road.

The raging debate contrasts dramatically with Prince William's generally quiet, consensual decision-making process and demonstrates what a volatile combination roads and bond money can be in traffic-clogged Northern Virginia.

Until recently, the Virginia Department of Transportation built and maintained all public routes. But several Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, began financing and constructing their own roads because they didn't want to wait for the state Transportation Department to do so.

"The state is supposed to build all the roads, but they just don't do it soon enough," said Prince William Supervisor William J. Becker (R-Brentsville).

Successful bonds also are relatively new to the county. Until three years ago, Prince William voters regularly rejected bond referendums. Many improvement projects, including the McCoart Government Center, had to be built with cash the county had on hand or lease purchase agreements that do not have to be approved by voters.

In 1987, public opinion on bonds seemed to change when a school bond passed. The following year, voters approved the road bond and bonds for parks, libraries and a police training center. "I think we've turned the corner" on bond approvals, said Supervisor Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D-Occoquan).

Confusion over the wording of the bond referendum, which stated that the money would be used for "improvements to the Davis Ford Road {and other road} . . . corridors," has led opponents to charge that using the money for anything except widening the existing two-lane road would violate the terms.

Earlier this year the supervisors approved a long-range building plan that calls for road bond referendums both this fall and November 1993. Limited state road dollars, and Northern Virginia's overwhelming traffic needs will continue to make local road building and bond projects a necessary option, lawmakers said.

The board decided on a two-step bond process for Davis Ford Road because Department of Public Works officials said they could not put a firm price tag on the project until a route had been chosen, and because the 1988 bonds brought the county close to its self-imposed debt ceiling, Seefeldt said.

Now many people are wondering whether this spring's controversy will doom the fall vote.

The referendum "is going to be a very difficult project to sell," said Donna Blanton, who spearheaded efforts to get the 1988 bonds approved.

"All the predictable things are going to be there -- the people who don't like bond financing -- and this one has additional baggage."

The November bond also may have a hard time because the most important election, for U.S. Senate, probably will be uncontested. Small turnouts have traditionally resulted in rejection of the bonds.

"I can't say if a road bond would go with such confusion," said Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge). "We got to find some way to bring the people together."