It's no less than shocking that a public official as smart as Hal Kassoff, head of the Maryland State Highway Administration, thinks motorists are so dumb that they'd be confused if a highway had both a number and a name.

Overlook, for example, Md. Rte. 2 from Baltimore to Annapolis, which is known widely as the Gov. Ritchie Highway, or the segment of U.S. Rte. 50 from Washington to Annapolis, which is known equally widely as the John Hanson Highway.

But posting signs on I-270 and the Maryland segment of I-70 west from Frederick, carrying out the congressional designation of those arteries as the Eisenhower Highway? Horrors! In Kassoff's view, it might befuddle motorists.

There's irony here. It was Maryland's own senator, Republican Charles McC. Mathias Jr., who sponsored a provision in the federal Highway Act of 1973 naming continuous links of interstate highways from the Pooks Hill interchange near Bethesda to downtown San Francisco for the late general and president, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

As a young major, Ike was a leader of the first Army truck convoy to travel coast to coast, 75 vehicles that in 1919 took two days short of two months to make it from the White House in Washington to City Hall in San Francisco. As president in 1956, Eisenhower signed legislation he had sought to activate the interstate system. He later traveled what is now called I-270 to reach his weekend retreat and subsequent retirement home at Gettysburg.

It was these roles that Congress agreed to memorialize. But nobody did anything about it until, a few years back, Maryland state Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery) prodded then-state highway administrator Lowell K. Bridwell. Bridwell replied that federal regulations discourage if not prohibit posting names on interstate highways. He suggested erecting an appropriate plaque at an I-70 rest stop.

Not even that was done.

Recently, Denis raised the issue anew with Bridwell's successor, Kassoff.

"What we are faced with is an example of circular reasoning," Denis wrote. "Rte. 270 is not referred to as Eisenhower Highway, because it is not 'known' as Eisenhower Highway. I therefore propose that the state . . . erect large signs with that designation and promote the name . . . . "

Kassoff responded, in part: "To be candid we believe that the public interest is best served when all highway users -- local and out-of-state -- use a common reference for route designation. The interstate highway system, and the 'I' numbering, has been a magnificent success in this regard . . . .

"However, we will pursue the idea of a plaque," Kassoff concluded.

For the record, naming of interstate highways has been successful in many places: I-395 in Northern Virginia also commonly is known as Shirley Highway (after the late Henry G. Shirley, head at various times of the Maryland and Virginia highway departments); I-94 in Chicago also commonly is known as the Dan Ryan Expressway; I-880 in California, linking Oakland and San Jose, commonly is known as the Adm. Chester Nimitz Freeway, and, by gosh, I-95 north of Baltimore is shown on maps issued by Kassoff's own agency as the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway.