In case you've been living under a rock somewhere, I'll let you in on something strange about downtown Salt Lake City - the sidewalks have been transformed into a war zone.

That's right. This unique city that we love because it is clean, attractive and interesting to tourists is no longer pleasant to walk around.In fact, it's impossible.

Let me illustrate. In the old days I used to leave the newspaper office and cross over 100 South to the ZCMI Mall. Then gremlins with backhoes suddenly attacked our lovely median strip, filled with shrubbery and trees, and ripped them out as part of a secret repair project.

At first I could carefully sneak across the construction zone. Then they put up the fence - a wall with distressing psychological implications. It went on for months. You could not cross that street. And no matter how many times I left the building with the intention of going to the mall, I was always unsettled as I looked at THE WALL.

Then this week - miraculously - the first cracks in the wall appeared, and I walked once more through a slender opening to the mall - and felt those first pangs of freedom.

Once inside the ZCMI Mall, I was jarred again, because renovation is in full swing and the warehouse feel is unmistakable. Walking on concrete floors through wooden barricades quickly ruins a lunch hour.

But there are other war zones. On 200 South between Main and State there is a wooden tunnel in place of a sidewalk, made of old lumber and chicken wire. Walking into it creates intense claustrophobia and the impression of being in some obnoxious warehouse right there in the middle of the city.

There are barricades extending in front of the Hotel Utah and the Church Office Building on South Temple, eliminating the option to cross the street from the mall to the Lion House. Those brave enough to go behind the barricade see the beautiful garden area replaced by a huge mound of dirt.

Forget walking along South Temple from State to Main Street. Excavation extends along both sides of South Temple to West Temple, removing the opportunity to get from the Crossroads Mall to Temple Square.

Temple Square is sealed off from South Temple Street by excavation and another wall. Even inside Temple Square there are barricades and trucks and men walking around on roofs.

Both sides of West Temple from South Temple to 100 South are blocked by excavation, and jiffy johns further jar the visual image. At 300 South and State there is another glorious wooden tunnel with boards so unsteady that they might sink below the street at any minute - carrying some pedestrians.

There are trenches on Main Street. Let's face it - this is like a spreading urban disease - and no one wants to talk about it. Security guards and construction people sheepishly say they have no idea what it is.

I have a theory.

Some bureaucrat somewhere looked at a funding allocation for roads and sidewalks and shouted, "Omigosh - if we don't use all these funds before the end of September they revert back to the government!"

So he ordered 24 massive excavation projects throughout the downtown area.

Or there is another intriguing possibility: SALT LAKE CITY IS INSTALLING A SECRET SUBWAY!

Whichever it is, the heart of the city is being torn apart by backhoes - from South Temple to 400 South and from Main Street to West Temple.

Oh, some of you are saying, "Don't be a moron - some day this will all be finished and then everything will be more beautiful than before. This is just the cost of progress."

But, you see, I have an Eastern background, and I know that downtown construction projects often extend for YEARS.

In the meantime, walking is a lost art. The formerly attractive sidewalks of Salt Lake City ARE NOW THE SIDEWALKS FROM HELL!