For more than two decades, it was the road that time seemed to forget.

Often crumbling and always plagued with potholes, the stretch of Nutley Street between routes 50 and 29 had been a chronic nightmare for commuters seeking access to the nearby Vienna Metro station and Interstate 66.

By later this month, officials hope that at least some of those problems will be solved, as Fairfax County finishes spending $1.5 million to repave and slightly realign the road.

The project caps a long and tortured journey for the humble half-mile stretch of Nutley Street, which until this year was one of the relatively few privately owned roads in Northern Virginia.

Residents frequently complained that developer Cyrus Katzen--who built the road to serve the neighboring Pan Am Shopping Center and an apartment complex--did a poor job of maintaining the street. Katzen, for his part, went so far as to attempt to use signs and speed bumps to divert the crush of commuter and truck traffic that overwhelmed the route each day.

"It was a substandard road, no question about it," said Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence). "Sometimes it might as well have been a dirt road because the potholes were so deep and numerous. . . . It looked like someone had shelled it."

The impasse held until this year, when Connolly helped broker an agreement allowing Katzen to turn over the road to the county--which would then improve the street before turning it over to the Virginia Department of Transportation. The state will then maintain the street.

The deal marks the end to the most serious problems nagging Nutley Street, which despite its condition had long been used as a key commuter route weekday mornings and afternoons. It also ends a long-term headache for Katzen, who was turned down in the 1970s when he offered to give the road to the county after it was built, according to a representative, and who no longer owns the shopping center that depends on it for access.

"There were lots of expenses involved with maintaining it," said Robert Strupp, a Katzen attorney. "His desire was to make the travel from Fairfax up to the Metro and over to Vienna easier. . . . He was probably one of the few private road owners in the county."

Private roads are not unheard of in Fairfax, particularly with the rise in popularity of gated subdivisions and homeowner associations. But few, if any, are also used as prime commuter routes.

Connolly--who praised Katzen for turning over ownership of the road for nothing--said the state Department of Transportation had been the main obstacle to a solution.

The state agency initially requested widening and other improvements that would cost up to $9 million, Connolly said. The county, which had no desire to own the road itself, said the price was too high.

After years of wrangling, however, state transportation officials finally agreed to leave the road at two lanes--bringing the cost of improvements down to $1.5 million, officials said. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the deal this year.

Connolly and other officials concede that because the road will not be wider, backups are likely to persist. But without gargantuan potholes and other obstacles, officials say, they shouldn't last nearly as long.

"If it ever made sense for that road to be private, it certainly no longer does," Connolly said. "It's a very connection to that whole area."