Did someone say that the governor of Maryland killed plans for the Intercounty Connector highway and now proposes building two roads to nowhere as an alternative?

Is this somebody's idea of a joke?

Is that the best that Maryland could do after more than four decades of spending millions of dollars on studies, plans and consultants' fees?

Building the 18-mile-long ICC may not have been a good idea, but surely highway engineers and other transportation experts must be capable of developing a viable alternative.

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has taken the road of least resistance, however, making a mockery of the highway-planning process instead.

Upon rejecting the proposal to build the ICC, Glendening unveiled a plan to build two short, limited-access roads at each end of the proposed ICC alignment.

Under phase two of this Rube Goldberg scheme, the governor has ordered state officials to sell off $25 million in property that was acquired for one of the routes that had been proposed for the ICC. The right of way obtained for an alternate southern alignment of the ICC will be dedicated for use as parkland and a still-to-be-determined transit line.

In the end, Glendening's decision to kill the ICC may cost taxpayers and, ultimately, the economy, more than it would have cost to build the highway.

The ICC, which was first proposed in 1950, was envisioned as an east-west transportation route across Montgomery County. The design concept and proposed locations for the highway were changed several times during the intervening years. But basically the ICC would have linked the Interstate 270 corridor in western Montgomery County to the Interstate 95 corridor in Prince George's County.

There is no true east-west highway that serves Montgomery County. The prevailing road network in the county dates to a time when its roads were designed primarily to move traffic in and out of the urban core to the south.

The ICC was originally envisioned as a link in a proposed outer beltway around the region. But facilitating travel across crowded Montgomery County alone is reason enough for a true east-west highway.

Still, the more compelling reason for building the ICC, or a viable alternative, is clearly economic.

That much was made clear two years ago in a draft environmental impact statement and investment study overview prepared for the Maryland Transportation Department.

Describing the I-270 corridor as "one of the premier centers of high technology in the United States, and a critical component of the economic well-being of Maryland and Montgomery County," the study pointed out that it has only one access-controlled highway linking it to the I-95 corridor.

Moreover, the one access-controlled link connecting I-270 and I-95 is the Capital Beltway (I-495), which operates at capacity during peak periods, causing motorists to use local roads instead, researchers noted. Besides, they added, the Beltway is at the southern perimeter of the ICC study area and therefore does not provide a direct cross-county route for traffic in that area.

But it's not only a matter of improving highway access to I-95 and thus the entire Eastern Seaboard. The ICC would provide a quicker and more direct route from the I-270 corridor to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, obviously a key to Maryland's economic growth.

Business leaders in the region and throughout Maryland argued those points all along, but failed to make their case. Opponents saw the arguments as a ploy to pave the way for more low-density development that would increase sprawl in the county. And business leaders no doubt weakened the case for the ICC by ratcheting up their campaign for a multibillion-dollar, scattershot road-construction program in the region.

Business leaders were nonetheless correct in pointing out the economic consequences of not taking steps to ease congestion in critical areas of the region's transportation network.

Opponents may dispute business leaders' estimates of the economic losses resulting from deficiencies in the region's transportation network. But one doesn't need a calculator to conclude that ultimately someone is going to pay a price for traffic delays and lost productivity.

That argument has nonetheless been lost in the decades-long war of attrition waged by environmentalists opposed to the ICC.

There may in fact be a legitimate environmental reason for Glendening's turnabout on the ICC. But surely the governor and his transportation experts can come up with a better alternative than the woeful piecemeal solution that he proposed last week.