"We face this strong resistance to planning," said Carrington Williams, a former member of the Virginia General Assembly, as he mused about his state's view of the world. Planning is "socialistic. 'Now don't let the federal government come in and tell us what to do. We run our own show.'

"But Virginia is strange. Virginia can be quite socialistic so long as it's our kind of socialism. Virginia still owns 20 percent of a railroad. Gets good dividends. We're running the liquor system.

" 'Oh, but that's ours,' they'd reply. 'We know how to do that.' "

"Our kind of socialism" took a quantum leap in Virginia at midnight last Saturday. That's when the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority came into being, taking from federal hands the control of National and Dulles International airports and the Dulles Access Road.

The result of a compact between Virginia and the District of Columbia, the airports authority is relatively conventional on the surface. But it really is a super shadow government because of its unconventional powers and attributes. It has $1 billion in bonding authority. None of its leaders is elected -- in fact it was crafted so that its leaders would have freedom to make wide-ranging decisions without having to respond directly to an electorate. Finally, it has an agenda far greater than worrying about where to park the Concorde.A Broad Charter

Take water. "You could just take the surplus water out of the Shenandoah," said former Virginia governor A. Linwood Holton Jr., who is chairman of the airports authority and who worries that someday Northern Virginia will run out of drinking water. "If you could take their floodwater, pump it across the hill {the Blue Ridge Mountains}, bring it down the median strip of Interstate 66, and dump it in the Occoquan Reservoir, you've solved your potable water problem."

Public transit?

"Yeah, I think our power includes building a railroad from West Falls Church," Holton added, referring to the much-debated idea of running Metro from the West Falls Church station out the Dulles Access Road to the booming emerging cities of Tysons, Reston/Herndon, Dulles itself and beyond.

"You've got to be very careful about that," Holton said. "It could be very, very expensive. But so long as it's related to 'airport' purposes, we have a very, very broad charter."

"I see the potential for the authority to do a lot of things, yes," said Williams, who as chairman of the authority's planning committee has, like Holton, made the switch from elected government to shadow government. "How do you get to the airport? Regional transportation planning is going to become a major part of our job. Extend the {Dulles} toll road up toward Leesburg? That's a moneymaker. What do you do about a Western Bypass?" The Western Bypass is a proposed north-south freeway west of Dulles.

"We have to think big," Williams said. "Those airports make a net profit per day of $55,000. That really is a lot of money."

No one interviewed for this series believes the airports authority will have the time, money or energy in the immediate future to do anything but try to rebuild its airports. But if the airports authority "can establish credibility and achieve respect, my guess is that it will be permitted to accrue powers," said Walter Scheiber, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. That would mean that this shadow government would have the potential to evolve into a kind of regional government.

"If this authority performs well, it will sit there as an example of what regional cooperation can do," Holton said. "It's highly desirable that it work. I don't know what causes acid rain, but it's more than likely a regional problem."

The significance of the creation of a regional government is that planners since World War II have said that the United States' new far-flung cities are unmanageable without one. The potential of a public shadow government was dramatized by Robert A. Caro in "The Power Broker," his biography of Robert Moses.

Moses "had glimpsed in the institution called 'public authority' a potential for power . . . that was exciting and frightening and immense . . . , adding a whole new layer to urban government in America," Caro wrote. Through the use of public authorities, Moses tore down vast swatches of old city to build bridges, roads, parks and public housing, making him one whose "influence on the cities of America was greater than that of any other person," according to Caro.

No one interviewed for this article suggested that anyone involved in the airports authority has the megalomania of a Moses, who among other things, changed the physical shape of Manhattan Island.

In Washington, however, the new airports authority has an independent source of funds, and therefore it might succeed where two other local pretenders to the title of supergovernment have not -- the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Metro "had the potential to be the airports authority, to govern large geographic areas," said COG's Scheiber. However, he said, "because of delays in construction, the appearance of arrogance, fears of escalating costs, it was perceived that Metro couldn't be trusted with anything except subways and buses."

COG might have been a regional power. COG's board of directors has representatives from just about every local government in the Washington area. However, because it has no independent source of funds, it exists at the pleasure of its member conventional governments, which have never wanted to see COG get too big.

The airports authority was a carefully crafted political brew. It is a compact between Virginia, where all the authority's real estate is located, and the District of Columbia, which has Congress. The authority's 11-person board is made up of five voting members from Virginia, three from the District, two from Maryland, and one appointed by the president.

"I hope we don't screw up," said Holton. "But we should be able to demonstrate what a good regional government can do. It's a function that doesn't respect any boundaries -- airplanes take off and go.

"Whether someday we're asked to take on more is speculative. But I'm doing everything I can to remember that we're Maryland, Virginia and the District."