You know, for all the clamor and angst and maddening reversals that comprised 2014's street fee debate, Portland City Council never voted on any of the many proposals floated to close the city's daunting shortfall in road funding.

There was never enough consensus, and always too much trepidation over opposition.

This afternoon was sort of a watershed moment, then. As expected, city commissioners unanimously passed a proposal to put a four-year, 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax onto May's ballot. If voters approve—by no means a foregone conclusion—the measure would raise $16 million per year, with 56 percent of that money going toward paving projects, and the rest thrown at safety improvements.

This afternoon's vote may prove more historically significant than that, though—at least within the modest sphere of Portland transportation policy. City leaders have been trying and failing for decades to find a new dedicated source of cash for city streets. This new gas tax proposal, which I detailed last week, would amount to a tiny fraction of the city's need (estimated at more than $100 million a year for a decade) but would still be a step above the blockage and impotence Portland's used to on this issue.

"This moment has been a long time coming," Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick said at the outset of the hearing. "We’ve known since 1987 that we were underinvesting in our streets."

Speaking of blockage: It'll certainly be attempted as May approaches. Nearly every person to testify at this afternoon's hearing supported the tax—including the on-again, off-again Portland Business Alliance, and a host of active transportation groups who are queasy over the regressive nature of a flat tax, but who support the safety projects and East Portland attention the city's promising.

But there was also the guarantee of committed opposition on the part of the city's gas stations, which they've been promising for months. Paul Romain, executive director of the Oregon Fuels Association, explained to commissioners that his clients can't abide a tax that might leave stations on the city's edges vulnerable. The argument is that motorists near Portland's margins will just opt to buy gas in Gresham, or Beaverton, or wherever rather than pay 10 cents more (a similar argument about truckers has ensured they won't be taxed as part of this proposal).

"If you're on the periphery, you have to make a decision which is: 'Do I eat the tax? Do I pass on some of it?" Romain said. "That's why we like a statewide tax."

Mayor Charlie Hales called that contention "ludicrous."

Romain also claimed "quite a few" organizations are prepared to stand against the local gas tax, though he wouldn't name any. "We’ve had meetings at our office; we’re not at liberty to disclose." And he promised to fight the ballot language the city's proposing for the gas tax, though that's a common feature with contentious measures.

There's also a pro-tax group forming up around the tax proposal, calling itself Fix Our Streets Portland. It's described by campaign manager Aaron Brown as a coalition of active transportation organizations (Oregon Walks, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance), small businesses, and others. Brown says the group's still taking shape and recruiting support. It's already recruited the firm Prospect PDX—also retained by mayoral candidate Jules Bailey and Commissioner Steve Novick—to help out.

As we've noted, a vocal campaign in favor of the tax is likely necessary for its passage. The city's been crowing about public opinion polling that says 86 percent of Portlanders want funding for safer streets, and 77 percent support new funding for maintenance. But the picture offered by existing polling on a 10-cent gas tax is less rosy: Several polls have found that roughly 55 percent of Portlanders like the tax. That number could decrease in the face of a strong opposition campaign.

And support likely won't be helped by the fact Portlanders have agreed to pony up for various projects again and again over the years—in the form of an Arts Tax and bonds to pay for schools and parks.

"A few years ago, a gas tax was an obviously good solution," said Corky Collier, executive director of the freight-minded Columbia Corridor Association. That might not be as much the case in light of all those other things, Collier said. Still his group supports the tax proposal.

None of the testimony changed much, or seemed to have bearing on what everyone in council chambers knew would happen before the hearing began. A 5-0 vote ensured you'll be voting on the thing—finally—on May 17.

"The size of the problem and the fact that it is now growing inexorably and exponentially is now clear to a lot of people," Hales said before casting the final vote. "We're here because we need to do something."