Had it not been for the vision -- and plain old political clout -- of Virginia State Sen. Edward E. Willey of Richmond last week, a group of shortsighted rural lawmakers might have succeeded in a singularly nasty attack on the state's carefully structured financial plans for transportation in general and Metro in particular. They may chalk it up to nothing more than a mid-session loss of temper, but the legislators from southwest Virginia were as personal as they were parochial in their comments about the proposal and its supporters.

They picked the wrong man to battle, however. Sen. Willey, who is chairman of the Finance Committee, struck back. Though he generally has opposed financing for Metro over the years, Sen. Willey recognized this year's proposed allocation as part of a total statewide transportation package. He merely let it be known that those who opposed the Metro money might witness the legislative destruction of their own pet projects -- just like that.

Now, this isn't exactly the high road to roads and rails, but the opponents -- led by Sen. Dudley J. (Buzz) Emick of Botetourt County -- set the tone for this sectional battle. Mr. Emick charged that Northern Virginians "have been greedy" and ridiculed Sen. Willey, charging that the chairman could "load up" the current budget with Richmond-area projects but wouldn't oppose the Metro funds. Sen. William E. Fears of Accomack volunteered that his area has "been raped by the big boys from the city" -- a diagnosis that collapses by the numbers when you look at how much Northern Virginia raises in revenues that are spent on other parts of the state.

What the rural attackers had hoped was that they might hold Metro money hostage in an effort to weaken a separate highway financing bill, which contains important allocations for Northern Virginia. What they couldn't or wouldn't see is that the roads measure is a compromise that provides both money and flexibility for rural road construction and repair.

The whole idea of all the transportation measures this year is to serve the road and rail interests of the entire state rather than to rekindle old rural-suburban skirmishes. So far, reason has prevailed -- if only by a handful of votes in this latest instance. If those who will be voting on the transportation measures can keep it this way, all of Virginia will have been served well.