The U.S. Department of Transportation reports 70% of the vouchers from this summer’s “Cash for Clunkers” incentive have been paid to dealers.

USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood says 565,690 of some 700,000 sales vouchers have been paid to dealers. The figure represents $2.4 billion paid or in the pipeline to dealers from the $2.9 billion Car Allowance and Rebate System program, which ended Aug. 26.

“I’m enormously proud of the men and women at DOT,” LaHood says in his blog today, shortly after speaking to the National Automobile Dealers Assn. “Not only did they help get the CARS program up and running in 30 days, but many of them have also worked around the clock to process applications and resolve the issues generated by such a huge response.”

A reported 5,000 federal employees and contract workers helped conduct the program. They continue to process voucher applications.

“The CARS program has worked – it has worked for hard-working families, the local dealerships that serve them and the domestic auto industry we all depend on,” LaHood says.

Although wildly successful in spurring vehicle sales and removing a portion of gas-guzzlers from U.S. roadways, the program received much criticism. Government computer servers proved unable to handle the volume of voucher submissions and repeatedly crashed.

Dealers also complained over the pace of voucher paybacks – they covered a cash incentive of up to $4,500, as well as disposal of the clunker, ahead of repayment from the government – fearing responsibility for hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to customers.

However, the nation’s auto dealers appeared to finally gasp a sigh of relief today.

“Because of the extraordinary consumer response to the government’s incentive, Cash for Clunkers has been called the most effective piece of the government's economic stimulus,” NADA Chairman John McEleney says in a statement.

“Dealers across the country are reporting that they experienced one of the busiest summers in recent memory thanks to the boost in sales prompted by the clunkers program.

“There’s no question that this program was a boon to consumers, to automobile dealers and to the workers who build cars and trucks,” McEleney says.