The A17 is a major route for HGVs accessing Norfolk from Northern England and the Midlands and also a major holiday route in the summer months for cars and caravans making their way to the seaside resorts of Hunstanton, Wells-next-the-Sea, Sheringham, Cromer and Great Yarmouth and is one of only two direct routes that links Norfolk with the A1, the other being the A47. The A17 has very few stretches of dual-carriageway (four in total) with the longest being the Sleaford bypass which is 3 miles (4.8 km) long with the second longest at Beckingham which is just 1⁄2 mile (0.80 km) long and the other two stretches are located at roundabouts in Long Sutton and Sutton Bridge both of which are under 1⁄4 mile (0.40 km) long, although in addition there are several stretches of dual carriageway at junctions. It is one of two main routes for residents of East Anglia to get to the North of England (and vice versa) - the other is the A47 via Peterborough, which is a longer route but much more dual-carriageway.
The road carries more traffic than it was designed to carry. It also carries many goods vehicles that must travel at or below 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) on the stretches of single carriageway. Impatient drivers take risks when gaps in the oncoming traffic allow. In the summer there are many caravans off to Great Yarmouth and the north Norfolk coast. The main meeting points at roundabouts of the A52, A15 and A16 routinely cause long queues. The section through South Holland is also heavily used by tractors.
The western end of the road used to begin at the former A46 junction in Newark-on-Trent where Queens Road met North Gate (former A46). It then followed Sleaford Road and Beacon Hill Road, meeting the A1 and passing through Coddington as Beckingham Road then Sleaford Lane. On the former section in Newark, when the Beacon Hill Bridge over the East Coast Main Line was replaced, the explosion to demolish the old bridge on 12 November 1961 put four construction workers in hospital.
The western end begins in Winthorpe, Nottinghamshire, on the eastern side of the Newark bypass, where it meets the A46 at a busy roundabout next to the Shell Winthorpe Service Station, with access to the A1. This section passes over the former RAF Winthorpe (now Newark Air Museum and the Newark & Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society Showground), and there is a roundabout for Newlink Business Park and the national distribution centre of Dixons and Currys. It meets the former route from Coddington at the Coddington Moor roundabout. There is a right turn for Newark Golf Club and a right turn for Barnby in the Willows. From College Plantation to Beckingham Bridge over the River Witham, the road follows the boundary between Lincolnshire (to the north) and Nottinghamshire (to the south), slightly to the north. The road also enters North Kesteven. It crosses the River Witham as part of the dual-carriageway Beckingham Bypass which was built in 1972 at a cost of £600,000, where there is a left turn for Beckingham Training Camp, and Carlton-le-Moorland. It returns to its former route and passes through Brant Broughton and Stragglethorpe, and there is a dangerous crossroads for Stragglethorpe to the right and Brant Broughton, to the left. This is one of the most accident-prone junctions in Lincolnshire. It passes across Leadenham Low Fields, with the Lincoln Cliff seen in the distance.
Leadenham is built on the side of the Lincoln Cliff, and the road used to pass through, where it met the A607 at traffic lights. In March 1995 the £3.3 million bypass was opened and the route passes through Leadenham Park to the south of the village. It ascends the Lincoln Cliff as a three laned road (2+1 road), and passes under the A607 where there is no junction. The Leadenham Bypass had been planned for over thirty years, and had started out as a dual carriageway which would have been the safest option (but more expensive) for the amount of traffic that the road carries. At the point where it crosses the former Grantham to Lincoln Line, it enters South Kesteven, at Fulbeck. There is an embankment as it ascends the rest of the Lincoln Cliff at Fulbeck Hilltop Plantation, and follows a former country lane the east of Fulbeck. It meets the former route (with access for Pottergate Road to Wellingore, and the A607) and passes across Fulbeck Heath.
At Cranwell and Byard's Leap, it re-enters North Kesteven at the line of the north-south Ermine Street (now the Viking Way). The road used to briefly follow Ermine Street southwards to Byard's Leap with its cafe, and then eastwards to the current route at the B1429 junction. The road now passes slightly further to the north, with a right turn for the B6403, and a left turn for the B1429 for RAF Cranwell. In North Rauceby, it passes along the southern edge of the airfield. There is a crossroads for Cranwell, to the left, and North Rauceby, to the south. At Windmill plantation, the road has been straightened, entering the parish of Sleaford. There is a service station and transport cafe on the left hand side.
It meets the north-south A15 at the Holdingham Roundabout, near the Jolly Scotchman (on the B1518 - the former route). There is the Sleaford Little Chef, the Sleaford Travelodge, and the TOTAL Holdingham Service Station. On the former route to Sleaford there is a McDonald's and the Texaco Hockmeyer Motors. Sleaford was bypassed by the A17 on 27 March 1975, when opened by Joseph Godber. The section from the A15 to the A153 had earlier been opened on 14 November 1973. It is the only substantial section of dual-carriageway on the route, and the main opportunity to overtake caravans and lorries. There is the grade-separated Bone Mill Junction with the A153, which shares the route from Holdingham, and the B1517 for Sleaford. It crosses the Peterborough to Lincoln Line, then the River Slea and the Spires and Steeples Trail. East of here to the road's eastern terminus, the landscape is flat. At Kirkby la Thorpe it meets the former route from Sleaford, near the Queens Head. The former route has a 13 ft 9in low (railway) Boston Road Bridge, another important reason for building the bypass. From here to Swineshead, the road follows the railway from Sleaford to Boston. There is a left turn for Asgarby, and a right turn for Burton Pedwardine.
At Heckington, the £2.5 million 2.8-mile (4.5 km) bypass was opened on 14 December 1982 by Lynda Chalker, Baroness Chalker of Wallasey. The former route is the B1394, and meets the A17 east of the village at the point where it is crossed by a 400 kV pylon line. A mile east of Heckington it crosses the Car Dyke. There is a left turn for the B1395, for South Kyme, and the road forms the parish boundary between Heckington and Great Hale until the district boundary. At East Heckington . On the right is the Abbey Parks farm shop next to the JET (former BP) Four Winds Service Station, then two hundred yards later there is the JET (former BP) De Rhodes Service Station on the left. At the Holland Dike, it enters the borough of Boston (the former Kesteven/Holland boundary).
At Swineshead Bridge there is a left turn for the A1121, for Boston, and the road is crossed by the Poacher Line at a level crossing next to the Barge Inn and Swineshead railway station. Swineshead was bypassed in 1985, and the former route leaves at the High Bridge Junction Passing The Ivy farm shop, which is sister to the popular Manor Farm Shop. . At Bicker, it meets the A52 at the Bicker Bar Roundabout, next to the Texaco Bicker Bar Service Station and Supreme Inns. The road meets its former route. At Bank House at Wigtoft, there is a right turn for the B1181, for Bicker. Wigtoft itself is bypassed, to the south, by the £4.4 million 3-mile (4.8 km) Wigtoft-Sutterton Bypass, which opened in July 1995. At Sutterton, on the bypass, it meets the B1397 Spalding Road at staggered crossroads, for Gosberton, and Sutterton, which is the former A16 (Spalding to Boston). At Sutterton Roundabout, near Algarkirk, it meets the A16, which is built on the former Lincolnshire Loop Line, and there is the BP Service Station and Sutterton Little Chef on the left hand side.
It passes Fosdyke to the west, where it crosses the River Welland at Fosdyke Bridge, entering the district of South Holland a few hundred yards south of the bridge near the Ship Inn. This was built as swing bridge in 1911 but replaced in 1989 with the current fixed span. The loss of swing stranded the coaster, JonSue, on the landward side. In March 1991 the ship was holed and sank when, on a falling tide, she settled on a dis-lodged limestone boulder used to reinforce the Welland channel and was cut up on site later the same year. The Macmillan Way crosses the river via this bridge also. At Moulton, there is a right turn for the B1357 for Moulton Seas End. At Whaplode as Washway Road, it passes Saracen's Head. At this point the former road passed through Saracen's Head, Holbeach and Fleet Hargate. The bypass, New Washway Road from Saracen's Head to Laurel Lodge Farm, opened in 1989. It meets the A151 at a T-junction, and there is a roundabout for the B1168 (the former route through Holbeach). It passes the Holbeach Technology Park and the George Farmer Technology and Language College. At Fleet it passes farm shops and cafes on both sides of the road with vintage military equipment including a Hawker Hunter, and meets the B1515, the former route from Holbeach, west of Fleet Hargate. At Gedney it meets the former route, with St Mary Magdalene Church, Gedney seen to the south.
It meets the B1359 (for Gedney Drove End) at a roundabout. The Long Sutton-Sutton Bridge bypass was opened in 1989. It bypasses Long Sutton, Little Sutton and Sutton Bridge. It meets the B1390, for Sutton St James, at a roundabout. It meets the B1359 (for Long Sutton), and the A1101, for Wisbech, at a roundabout, and the BP Long Sutton Filling Station, the Kings Lynn Long Sutton Travelodge. There are two roundabouts where it changes direction abruptly and crosses the Cross Keys swing bridge over the River Nene at Sutton Bridge. This bridge retains its swing function necessary for access to Wisbech port for pleasure craft and small coasters. It was constructed as a shared road/rail bridge with the single line rail crossing on the west side. With the closure of the line the A17 was increased to two lanes but this bridge remains a congestion point to this day. To the south is the Sutton Bridge Power Station and following the river North for half a mile is the port of Sutton Bridge. Just east of the bridge the turning to the left provides access to the "Sir Peter Scott Walk" coastal path and "Snowgoose Trust" bird sanctuary.
The road follows an embankment close to the edge of The Wash, and at Walpole Cross Keys it enters Norfolk and the district of King's Lynn and West Norfolk. The £3.14 million 6.8-mile (10.9 km) West of Kings Lynn - County Boundary section was opened on 14 December 1982 by Lynda Chalker, Baroness Chalker of Wallasey. In Terrington St Clement, there is a crossroads at Balsam Field, for Tilney High End to the right, at which there is the African Violet Centre with a cafe. From this point all the way to the A47 junction, the road is the parish boundary between Clenchwarton to the north, and Tilney All Saints to the south. The former route passed through Terrington St Clement, Clenchwarton and West Lynn. The improved follows the former Spalding to South Lynn, part of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GN), which closed on 2 March 1959. Whilst the A17 has a chequered accident record, not a single passenger was killed on this former railway. It meets the A47 at the start of the King's Lynn bypass at a roundabout.