Anna Conda feared encountering snakes on the highway. Fuzzy I. Site had bouts of blurry vision during winter driving. S. Patrick Day wondered why his skin was turning green.
Ready with a cure for these unusual ailments and a dose of transportation-related wisdom is the “Highway Doctor,” otherwise known as Doug Fischer, longtime Anoka County engineer.
The punning names and unusual maladies all spring from the mind of Fischer, who addresses them in a Dear Abby-style format on his Highway Doctor website — http://thehighwaydoctor.com. Fischer launched the site three years ago with the help of his daughter, who handled the design and took pictures of her father — in scrubs — for it.
“Highway transportation issues can be pretty boring, so it’s a way to put a fun spin on things,” Fischer said. “It’s educational, but I try to make it fun and lighthearted at the same time.”
The website is a new platform for Fischer’s Highway Doctor Q & As, which he began writing some 14 years ago for an in-house newsletter while working in Washington County’s transportation division.
Fischer continued writing as the Highway Doctor after moving to Anoka County in 2001 and since his 2002 appointment as county engineer. Last month, the Minnesota County Engineers Association named Fischer, a former president of the association, as its County Engineer of the Year for 2014.
So far, Fischer has written more than 100 Highway Doctor pieces, a number of which appear on his site. He posts new ones every three or four weeks, often with a seasonal hook.
In March, for example, came the plea for help from S. Patrick Day because his skin was turning green. The doctor diagnosed the ailment as hypochromic anemia. But continuing on the green theme, the doctor also imparted some actual highway information, describing hydro seeding. In that process, highway crews spray a slurry of grass seed and other ingredients, including green dye, on a roadside in what the doctor says is a cost-effective alternative to installing sod.
In other cases, the doctor explained to Anna Conda that what she thought were highway signs warning of snakes on the road actually were warning of curves or a winding roadway ahead — and recommended getting help for her ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes. While Fuzzy I. Site may have some kind of eye disease, the doctor suspected instead that driving too close behind a snowplow was causing his blurry vision.
“Sometimes I have a funny name and want to make a story out of it,” Fischer said. “Sometimes I have a story and have to find a funny name. I always have a lot of fun coming up with goofy names and a lot of people get a kick out of them.”
An Ohio native, Fisher, 53, is a third-generation civil engineer, following his grandfather and father in the profession.
“I’ve been on construction sites since I’ve been in diapers — boots, diapers and hard hat,” Fischer said. “It’s kind of in my blood. I love what I’m doing. It’s nice at the end of the day, you can drive down the road and see what you’ve accomplished.”
Fischer earned a degree in civil engineering at Iowa State University, where he also played football. While that was a “weird combination,” he said, and challenging, it ultimately has paid off in readying him for the teamwork and preparation that go into completing big highway projects.
“The football side has always helped me on the engineering side,” Fischer said. “When you go out to a job site and there a problems, to be a big strong guy has helped. You don’t tend to get pushed around too much.”
Fischer worked for private engineering firms before coming to Anoka County in 1991. He has been there since except for a three-year span with Washington County.
“On the private side, you get hired to do a certain aspect of a project,” Fischer said. “Here at the county, we get to identify the problems, determine what the solution is and then design it, build it, budget for it, pay for it and maintain it. I’m rebuilding some of the stuff I already built.”
The county is to open bids this week on its marquee project for 2015, a new interchange on Hwy. 10 at Armstrong Boulevard in Ramsey near Elk River, Fischer said. Putting together financing from nine federal and other sources for what could be a $49 million project has taken years.
“It’s going to be a busy year for us,” Fischer said. “We’re going to have a lot of detours and road closures, a lot of orange up here in Anoka County this summer.”
Seeing orange on the road? Sounds like another case for the Highway Doctor.
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is email@example.com.