BY ANY road-building yardstick in Virginia, the shortest distance between two points -- start to finish -- is a series of detours, dead ends, runarounds and shortcuts. Planning a road project is only half the fun; nailing down the money for it can be the biggest trip. Nevertheless, thanks to thorough groundwork by Gov. Baliles that led to a remarkably creative special session of the General Assembly on transportation last year, the state has begun to address its massive road needs with financial as well as political commitments. Similarly, Northern Virginia is exploring new approaches to financing and building that should overcome bureaucratic roadblocks to produce concrete results.

One of these good ideas comes up for consideration tomorrow: the Fairfax and Loudoun county boards of supervisors are scheduled to vote on whether to establish a special transportation tax district along the Rte. 28 corridor. Under this proposal, commercial landowners would be assessed a surtax to held pay for widening of the highway. In addition, Fairfax board chairman John F. Herrity will ask the county staff to develop proposals for still other transportation tax districts for Tysons Corner and Merrifield. Though voter disenchantment with Mr. Herrity's overall development policies was a critical element in his defeat last month, the outgoing chairman has negotiated significant financial commitments from commercial landowners to underwrite road construction that benefits homeowners and individual motorists as well as industrial traffic.

In the meantime, the state government is having to come up with new ideas, too. A state supreme court decision barring the use of pledge bonds -- bonds raised with state pledges of gasoline taxes and other highway revenues to pay off principal and interest -- is the latest complication. Though state officials are playing down the effects of this ruling, legislators should prepare to come up with a rescue plan for the state's long-range highway projects. Otherwise, Virginians who think today's arterial horrors are trying their patience every day had better brace themselves for the Vehicular Glacial Age of the 21st Century