HAVING WOBBLED for years on the 50-year-old effort to build an east-west cross-county road in suburban Maryland, Gov. Parris Glendening is now furiously seeking to destroy any chance of a project once and for all. The governor has come to the preposterous conclusion that Montgomery County cannot be crossed in any direct alignment without ruining the environment, and he now wants to sell off all land that the state has been assembling for years. But clearer heads may -- and should -- prevail: State leaders with more vision will attempt to block the governor's close-out land sale. Regardless of what route an ICC may take, preservation of land options is the smart way to go.

House Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller oppose selling the land. So do two men who have the power to stop the governor in his tracks: state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon. They make up the majority on the Board of Public Works, which would have to approve the sale of most if not all the state-owned land involved.

Sen. Miller has noted that the land acquisition "was not something that was easily put together and it should not be easily sent asunder." Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan talked of a county purchase of the land; but a majority of the council doesn't agree. If the governor's sell-off were to proceed, much of the property would be offered first to the original owners at the original prices plus interest. Those owners happen to include developers who would be only too happy to fill the space with more people -- with even greater demands for roads.

If Gov. Glendening now believes that Montgomery and Prince George's are sacrosanct havens that cannot handle any efficient east-west crossing anywhere, he should be able to back up such a finding. That is not the federal government's assessment at this point, nor have all the possible alternatives been examined. To sell off any of the land without proof that no crossing can ever be built would be a reckless, dumb-growth move.