The Virginia Port Authority has taken initial step towards issuing $110 million in bonds for projects that could add about 60 percent to cargo- handling capacity at Hampton Roads and Richmond.

Katherine O'Neal, the authority's director of community relations, said the funds to be raised through the bond issue would finance land acquisition, facility construction and equipment purchases.Once the bonds are issued, all the projects would have to be completed within three years.

The port authority's board of commissioners set the process in motion last week when it approved a resolution of intent to issue port fund revenue bonds.

No specific figures were available for the potential increase in containerized cargo, but Ms. O'Neal noted that Hampton Roads handled a record 5.1 million tons in general cargo last year. Container traffic accounted for about 75 percent of that total.

Last week's action means the port authority could use the bonds to pay for

financial, engineering and commercial feasibility studies that it will now undertake, Ms. O'Neal explained. If the board decides to go ahead with the projects after the studies are completed, it would still have to approve another resolution authorizing them. The bonds could be issued by July 1.

Virginia is just one of several port authorities that have recently moved to raise funds in the bond market.

Its closest rival, the Maryland Port Administration, is engaged in a $240 million project to deepen Baltimore's ship channel to 50 feet in early 1990, and the new $250 million Seagirt Marine Terminal there is scheduled to open sometime next year. Those projects have not involved bond issues, however.

Last year a Port of Houston bond referendum of approximately $100 million, which includes expansion of a container terminal, won voter approval. The Port of Jacksonville recently announced it intends to issue a $50 million bond for the renovation of a terminal.

Projects the Virginia authority's bonds will finance include:

* Newport News Marine Terminal: A 186-foot extension of the north berth of Pier C, providing space to handle vessels up to 1,000 feet in length. Funds also will provide for paving, drainage and lighting of 27 additional acres of cargo storage area recently acquired by the authority.

* Norfolk International Terminals: The start of a northerly expansion of the terminal through the purchase of about 4,000 feet of waterfront property. The project includes additional yard stacking cranes.

* Portsmouth Marine Terminal: Construction of a fourth berth that would be connected to an existing berth leased by Sea-Land Service Inc. Included in the improvements are six additional container straddle carriers and an additional ship container crane.

* Port of Richmond: A third berth, primarily for container handling. The wharf would be 1,200 feet long, and the project would include about 100,000 cubic yards of dredging.