TALLAHASSEE --- Nearly a year after Gov. Ron DeSantis directed state transportation officials to reach a settlement with bondholders over toll rates on Northwest Florida’s long-controversial Garcon Point Bridge, tolls came down nearly 50 percent on Thursday.

The Florida Department of Transportation announced tolls dropped from $4.50 to $2.30 for SunPass users and from $5 to $2.75 for cash-paying motorists.

The department said in a news release that it had been in “back-and-forth negotiations with bondholders” and that a settlement “initiates the transfer of ownership of the bridge.” The release did not provide details about the terms of the settlement.

“For the first time, tolls collected on the Garcon Point Bridge will remain in Florida and will be reinvested for routine maintenance, critical updates and improvements,” the news release said.

A department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to questions about the deal. Also, nothing related to a settlement had been posted in a court docket in a legal battle between bondholders and the state.

UMB Bank, which represents bondholders, filed the lawsuit in December 2018 about tolls not producing enough revenue to pay off $95 million in bonds and interest. A Leon County circuit judge in late 2019 ordered toll increases, which took effect in early 2020. Those increases pushed tolls from $3.75 to $4.50 for motorists who used the SunPass system and to $5 for motorists who paid cash.

The Legislature in 1992 created the Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority, which had authority to build the bridge and issue bonds. The bridge was known in Tallahassee as “Bo’s Bridge” because it was championed by former state House Speaker Bo Johnson of Milton.

The authority issued the bonds in 1996, with the bridge opening in 1999. But the bridge did not generate enough revenue, a problem that was eventually complicated by the fact that the authority effectively became defunct in 2014.

Last July, DeSantis traveled to the bridge, which crosses part of Pensacola Bay, to call for tolls to be cut nearly 50 percent. He also said he wanted the state to acquire the bridge.

At the time, then-Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault said it could take several weeks for tolls to be lowered as part of a long-range acquisition plan that would include the Legislature putting the changes into law.

State officials believed at the time the acquisition cost could be mixed into the department’s annual work program and that the Florida Turnpike’s credit profile would allow the agency to refinance outstanding debt on the bridge, while the new toll rates would be enough to cover operations and maintenance.

In court filings, UMB Bank attorneys put the amount owed on the bonds at $134.9 million as of July 1, 2018, a number that continued to grow.