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They don't wear striped suits any more, but it wouldn't be difficult to spot state prison inmates in a proposed new extracurricular role -- cleaning the Thruway.

State prison and Thruway officials are negotiating the use of prison labor along the 559-mile interstate highway, Thruway Authority Chairman Peter Tufo said in Buffalo today. He emphasized that no agreement has been met yet but added that the authority would like to take advantage of the imprisoned labor force.

The revelation came at the Thruway Authority's first meeting ever in Buffalo -- part of an "outreach program" designed to field comments and questions from the state's residents and motorists.

Tufo's statement came as he responded to a question from Douglas Unger of Buffalo, who said he has seen prison labor work well along highways in other states.

Tufo and two others from the authority -- Vice Chairwoman Genevieve Starosciak and Executive Director John H. Shafer -- heard a variety of comments from area residents and officials.

The comments ranged from suggestions for new commuting policies for Grand Island residents to an adjacent property owner's complaints about a damaged fence.

Legislator Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, told the authority that Grand Island owners of pickup trucks and vans should be afforded the same commuter discounts allowed for other residents. He noted that about 850 truck owners use those vehicles for non-commercial purposes and should not be asked to pay the full 50-cent toll each time they use the Thruway -- their only highway link to the mainland.

"It's a minor change that would relieve a major problem," Swanick said.

Tufo and Mrs. Starosciak, former Erie County clerk, promised Swanick and Grand Island officials that they would seriously consider such a change, especially in light of Grand Island's "symbiotic" relationship with the Thruway.

"I do believe your situation is distinguishable from other areas of the state," Tufo said.

Thruway officials also showed interest in points raised by Don VanGuken, representing a group called Self Help for Hard of Hearing People. He pointed out that New York's hundreds of thousands of people who have hearing problems find no access to volume control or teletypewriter phones in Thruway rest areas.

"If a deaf person breaks down on the Thruway, he should be able to make a call to tell someone he'll be late just like you," VanGuken said.

The Thruway should pay more attention to the problems of the deaf and other handicapped people, he said, suggesting that sign language interpreters at such meetings as the one held today. Tufo called his suggestions "big points."

"We'll look at them very seriously," he said.

Other points raised at today's meeting included:

Suggestions from Williamsville Trustee Ronald Daniels and Williamsville resident Larry Hillebrand that consideration be given to extending new sound barriers near the Williamsville toll barrier another 1,500 feet. Both men said truck noise in the area continues.

Suggestions that the authority plant trees to block view of billboards that one speaker said scarred the landscape.

Complaints of depressed pavement between Williamsville and Pembroke, the site of two bus accidents in recent years. Division Engineer Leonard J. DePrima indicated he thinks work during the summer has solved the problem.

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