First impressions are important. They color our perspective and mean the difference between finding someone charming or annoying, between recommending a restaurant to friends or telling them to skip it. Between moving your company to Tucson or setting up shop elsewhere.

City leaders recognize that and have been working on improving the experience of driving to or from Tucson International Airport.

The section of Tucson Boulevard from East Valencia Road to the airport was a priority for the city and was one of the first projects slated as part of the $100 million approved for road improvement in 2012 through Proposition 409.

Also, as reported in the Star, over the next three months the “First Impressions” project led by the Tucson Metro Chamber and sponsored by Casino del Sol Resort, Crest Insurance Group, Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment, Jim Click Automotive Team, Vantage West Credit Union and Visit Tucson will beautify the South Tucson Boulevard medians that stretch from East Irvington Road to the airport with native plants and artwork — a praise-worthy effort.

But what if your path to the airport doesn’t include most of Tucson Boulevard? What if your out of town guests or potential investors want to look at commercial space on Palo Verde? What if, business gods forbid, you’re forced to take East Valencia Road?

While Tucson Boulevard offers that good first impression, East Valencia is like the secret that tests a friendship — we are not the shinny, newly paved and landscaped city; we’re here to test your suspension and your patience as you bump up and down the street.

Currently, the road’s repair is part of the Regional Transportation Authority’s plan. Unfortunately it is one of the last projects on the list, scheduled to be completed between 2022 and 2026. One can only imagine what eight more years of wear and tear will do to the road’s condition.

Even if East Valencia Road could wait that long, a report released last year by the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management found future plans could be in jeopardy as the RTA faces a projected deficit of $364 million over the life of the project.

The fate of East Valencia Road exemplifies the problem facing local government when it comes to fixing our roads. A lack of investment in the past has caused a once-addressable maintenance problem to balloon into a prohibitively expensive mess.

We all know our streets are bad and the city and county are trying their best to fix them, managing limited resources to fix a road here and patch a few potholes there, but there is not enough money to do the job properly, and the cycle we’re stuck in continues to spiral.

The bad economy affects revenues, revenues affect the roads, bad roads affect economic growth, and so on and so on.

We can continue to support bond projects and even property-tax increases, but they will never be large enough. Our best solution to solving a problem like East Valencia Road is to lobby for an increase in the gas tax and a way to keep the Legislature from raiding that money for other uses.

Until we do, Tucson will have to keep trying to make a good “first” impression, because we may not make a lasting one.