WHEN IT comes to one of the most important highway projects still to materialize in Maryland, Gov. Glendening keeps veering from one side to the other. Whatever he chooses to call it, an intercounty connector linking the I-270 business corridor and Baltimore Washington International Airport must be built to relieve impossible congestion. But having once endorsed the idea as a top transportation improvement, the governor has taken a series of detours, opposing an "ICC" as most Marylanders envision it, endorsing some smaller version of a "parkway" and then dumping the whole subject in the lap of a study commission. Now word has it he is considering ignoring the commission's endorsement of a connector in favor of a package of alternative proposals.

Wrong way. The governor apparently has concluded that no suitable road could be built without damage to wetlands, open space and animal habitat. Yet it is anything but clear that no crossing can be mapped without ruining the environment. Gov. Glendening may believe that not building is consistent with his nationally acclaimed growth policies, which emphasize the reuse of developed land over scattershot new development requiring costly water and sewer systems, additional roads and schools. But any growth that is truly "smart" must include adequate transportation: access to jobs, cross-county travel and commercial connections.

When the governor named his commission, he noted proudly that it included some of the country's most respected experts on roads, transit and land use. The group studied hard for more than a year and came up with a reasonable plan to ease congestion in a number of ways, including more mass transit and -- yes -- a four-lane, east-west connecting highway. To relieve rush-hour congestion somewhat, the commission recommended that the state charge tolls set higher during those hours.

While the members did not settle on a specific route for the 20-mile connector, a solid majority agreed that environmental concerns were outweighed by the important need for a connecting route. Is Gov. Glendening now prepared to toss aside the conclusions of his distinguished panel? Or will he pull out another of his reversible-umbrella policies that's supposed to cover everybody's position but protects nothing very well?

Can it be that no major crossing is possible that won't unacceptably damage the environment? County executives Doug Duncan of Montgomery and Wayne Curry of Prince George's know that a connector is necessary. "The ICC is critical to the future of our economy," Mr. Duncan noted again last week. Mr. Curry said "any conscious decision to foreclose on that is misguided." If continued study is necessary to find an environmentally acceptable route, so be it. But to skirt around the issue with inadequate substitutes gets Marylanders nowhere.